The road tour continues.
The Santa Barbara High football team will look to continue living up to its moniker of “road warriors,” as the Golden Tornado travel to Palmdale tonight for a 7 o’clock matchup with the Falcons in the semifinals of the CIF-SS Division 8 playoffs.
“We have nothing left in the tank,” said Santa Barbara coach J.T. Stone. “There’s nothing left to give but to go down and play hard in the elements. We know it’s going to be cold and we’re concerned about that, but this is it.”
Temperatures may dip below 40 degrees this evening, which would mark the first time this season Santa Barbara has been subject to colder temperatures. The team played in chilly conditions up in Lompoc in October – though temperatures still stayed above 50 degrees.
Santa Barbara, which enters tonight’s game as the No. 2 team in the CIF Southern Section Division 8 rankings, defeated Gahr 44-0 in the first round and won 42-32 last week against Palm Desert. It has been a historic run for the Golden Tornado (10-2), snapping a 30-year playoff victory drought on their way to the semifinals.
The Falcons (11-1) come in ranked No. 4 in Division 8. They defeated No. 5 Aliso Niguel, 13-12, last week and beat Garden Grove 18-0 in the first round.
Palmdale is led on offense by dual-threat quarterback Marcus Hearn. The junior has thrown for 1,183 yards and 15 TDs and is third on the team in rushing with 268 yards on 60 carries and 3 TDs. His 1,451 yards of total offense leads the team. Tyjoun Cavins leads the team in rushing with 724 yards and 12 TDs on the year, while Jayden Sheridan and Steven Godbolt have combined for 34 catches, 574 yards and 7 TDs.
“The one thing that worries me is that they are really good if you don’t tackle,” Stone said. “But if our defense plays well and they gang tackle, we’ll be fine.”
Antonio Bittar leads the Falcons with 12.5 sacks. Waleen Lovell leads the team with 68 total tackles and Isaiah Pau has a team-high six interceptions.
“Defensively they do a bunch of things,” Stone said. “They’re aggressive and they’ve got a bunch of athletes back there. It should be a good game. We feel like we’re evenly matched.”
The Golden Tornado will rely on what got them to the semifinals – stellar quarterback play, a timely running game and a fast, tough defense. Defensive linemen Joshua Rosales and Noach Wood will look to dominate up front, while the linebackers, Johnny Valencia and Charlie Figueroa, will look to slow down the Falcons running attack.
Deacon Hill, who has thrown for more than 800 yards and 8 TDs this postseason, has been playing his best football at the most crucial moments. He will be joined in the backfield with running backs Justin Perez and Ty Montgomery, as Santa Barbara will look to establish the running game in the cold conditions.
“We have to be able to run the ball,” Stone said. “A lot of our offense is based off running the ball. We’re a big RPO (run-pass option) football team, so it’s crucial. For the kids, it’s about how they mentally prepare no matter what the situation is in order to get it done. You just can’t make any excuses.”
Santa Barbara has been playing on the road or at neutral sites throughout the season due to the ongoing construction at Peabody Stadium. A large contingent of olive and gold supporters made the 220-mile trek to Palm Desert last week, helping the Golden Tornado feel right at home.
“Playing on the road, it’s tough,” Hill said. “But I call ourselves road warriors. We just take it as another game. It helps when the crowd shows up… we had a huge crowd at that Palm Desert game and that’s a long trip, so it helps to have all of them there and cheering.
“Nothing really feels like an away game, it just feels like another day and another game.”
After overcoming a pair of early-season losses to St. Bonaventure and Pacifica, Santa Barbara enters tonight’s game winners of seven straight. Stone said he has the utmost trust in his guys and their confidence is continuing to grow.
“I honestly believe this football team understands what has to be done,” Stone said. “I don’t think it’s about us coaches this Friday. This is a brotherhood of kids who have played together for a very long time, so I think all those factors are going to come into play and I trust them.
“They’ve already done things that I sit by now and I’m in awe about. They’ve grown and I believe it when they say ‘we’ve got this.’ That’s all they’ve been telling me all week. That wasn’t there before. When you can look your kids in the eye and all of them get it…This group is special.”