The Santa Barbara High football team overcame four first half turnovers and relied heavily on its running game to secure the team’s first outright league title since 2001.
“You guys know that around Santa Barbara High School that everybody likes to talk,” Dons coach J.T. Stone said as he addressed his team postgame. “You guys just gave them something to talk about.”
It wasn’t pretty, but the Dons were able to control the line of scrimmage over the final two periods on their way to a 31-13 victory at Santa Maria High.
Santa Barbara (8-2, 5-0) ran for 220 yards — 138 yards in the second half — relying heavily on the right side of its offensive line. Led by seniors Chase Kamin, Nick Baizan and Kurt Tovar, the Dons were able to keep the Chargers defense on their heels.
“We had a tough night and we had to earn our points, but we got it done,” Kamin said postgame. “We went into halftime and we knew we just had to come back in the second half and be gritty and grindy to get the win. Anyway we get it done, we get it done.”
Santa Barbara had a first quarter to forget. Quarterback Deacon Hill had a pair of interceptions — both by Carlos Santiago-rico, who took the second pick back 24-yards for a touchdown to give DP the early 7-0 lead. The Dons got on the board with a one-yard run by Ty Montgomery, who finished with 85 yards on 20 carries and 2 TDs. The score was set up by a 67-yard catch and run by Jake Knecht, who had missed the previous four games with a hamstring injury.
On the Chargers next drive, Noach Wood shot into the backfield and recovered a fumble. The Dons took over at the DP 13, but on the final play of the first quarter, DP’s Alejandro Castanon blew up a zone-read play and took the ball from Hill, returning the ball 62 yards.
Facing a third down in scoring range, the Chargers had a false start penalty before Wood recorded a sack to keep DP off the board.
The Dons would punt the ball away, though on DPs first play Charlie Figueroa tipped a pass over the middle that ended up in the hands of Justin Perez. Hill would score on a one-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7 just before the half.
The turnovers would continue. Dakota Hill had an interception with 1:07 left in the half. The Dons were trying to take a two-score lead into the break, however a tipped pass ended up in the hands of Johnny Alvarado at the goal line. He would return the ball to midfield before Dakota Hill came away with his second interception before the half.
“I’ve been waiting on this moment for a while, so I’m pretty happy right now,” Dakota said after the game.
Santa Barbara opened the second half with the ball and kept it on the ground. Montgomery scored on a six-yard run to make it 21-7.
The Chargers went three and out on their next drive, though a muffed punt by the Dons gave DP the ball near midfield.
Dakota Hill continued to haunt DP’s Trent Jones, as he made his third interception of the game — this one at the goal line to keep DP off the board.
“It’s a feeling I can’t describe,” Dakota said. “It’s part of the game and it’s why you love the game. Coach Stone always tells us that we’re the chosen group, and I can see what he means because we’re a special group of kids. We’re not done yet.”
Deacon Hill added his second rushing touchdown of the game to make it 28-7. Conner Lee returned the ensuing kickoff 95-yards for a score to keep DP close, but with 9:59 left the Dons kept possession for more than seven minutes before Montgomery added a field goal with 2:38 left.
With 1:10 left, Dakota Hill made the game-clinching interception to give the Dons the outright league title.
As the clock wound down and before lining up to shake hands, several Dons players — led by Joshua Rosale — dumped Gatorade on Stone to celebrate the big win.
The game was supposed to be played at DP, though the poor air quality due to the Ventura County wildfires caused the schools to relocate to North County. Both Stone and DP coach Doug Caines said the last-minute relocation played a big role in the contest.
“We’re not the best team when we’re not focused,” Stone said. “I was scared because these guys are 17 and when you have all the distractions it makes you worry. It took us a good quarter to figure it out and get focused, but we got the W and we’re happy.”
Caines said he got a call at 2:40 p.m. Friday and was told the game was cancelled. An hour later, his phone rang again and he found out the game would be played.
“(Santa Barbara) was ready to travel and we were ready to walk out and play a game,” Caines said. “The fact that we had to figure out the bus and figure out all this stuff … it’s crazy.”
The site change meant that neither teams’ band or cheerleaders made the trip, though fans for both sides still showed up and cheered loudly throughout.
Perez ran for 67 yards on nine carries, while Deacon Hill had 68 yards on a season-high 17 carries. Hill threw for only 139 yards, completing 11 of his 19 pass attempts and throwing 3 INTs.
Santa Barbara outgained DP 359 to 78 in total offense.
The running game has proved key for the Dons down the stretch. Kamin said that after the team lost to St. Bonaventure 31-6 on Sept. 13, the linemen took it upon themselves to sustain a running attack.
“That was really a gut check for us to really bounce back,” he said. “We know that if we are going to make a deep run in the playoffs, we’ve got to have an O-line that can run the ball.”
For the Chargers (3-7, 3-2), the lack of offense came back to hurt them in the second half.
“We had a chance and we had our destiny in our hands,” Caines said. “I couldn’t be prouder of their effort, especially defensively. I mean we were all over them.
In reality, on paper that’s the better football team,” he said about the Dons. “They beat teams that we played by more than us. Offensively, we just made too many mistakes. The reality is that we just played too much defense.”
Both teams expect to hear about their playoff seeding this weekend. The Dons hope to play a game closer to home, but the road warriors expect to be ready for whatever challenge comes their way.
“We’ve got to put on for our city,” Baizan said. “It’s all on us and it’s our time to shine. There’s more to come.”