The Golden Tornado were tired of all the talk of disappointment.
Leading up to Friday’s matchup with Gahr, the Santa Barbara High football team heard all of the outside noise. The team was well aware it hadn’t won a playoff game in three decades and used that as motivation in its 44-0 throttling over the Gladiators Friday night at San Marcos’ Warkentin Stadium.
“We came in with a different attitude this week,” said senior lineman Nick Baizan. “We were just more focused. Now we know we really have a chance. A lot of great things can happen and we know that.”
Quarterback Deacon Hill said the team has been talking playoffs since the season began in August.
“We knew what we had to do and I think this is best we’ve executed by far,” he said.
In the middle of it all was Johnny Valencia. The junior linebacker was all over the field for the Golden Tornado and their swarming defense that limited the Gladiators to just 26 yards of total offense.
“We were a little nervous, but that’s a good thing,” Valencia admitted postgame. “We were prepared and we were ready to play.”
Valencia was ready from the get go. He recovered an onside kick attempt on the games first play from scrimmage.
“Coach (Ralph) Molina told me expect it,” Valencia said, crediting his defensive coordinator. “He gave me the heads up and I was ready for it.”
After Valencia’s recovery, Santa Barbara hit the ground running. Justin Perez had a 42-yard run on the first offensive play – which was his longest rush of the season. He capped off the drive two plays later with a three-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
Hill threw for four touchdowns – all in the first half. He first connected with Ty Montgomery on a 36-yard TD pass. With 1:52 left in the first quarter, Deacon Hill found Dakota Hill, who dodged three tacklers and tip-toed down the sideline for a 12-yard score. The Hill boys (no relation) would link up again with 7:23 left in the second quarter for a 22-yard score to make it 28-0. Deacon pump faked a screen route to Moki Nacario and was knocked on his back as he let the ball go. The junior signal caller threw up his arms while lying on the turf to celebrate the score.
“It was a perfect ball,” Dakota said. “That was all Deacon. He put it right there and all I had to do was just open up the basket.”
Deacon said once he saw the corner bite on the fake he knew the play would be successful.
“It was one on one with Dak and I’m going to throw that ball every time.”
Santa Barbara was able to get the ball inside the Gladiator 5 yard line on its next drive, though they were unable to convert on a fourth down play. Gahr took over at its own 1 and on the next play from scrimmage Joshua Rosales tackled the ball carrier in the end zone for a safety.
After receiving the free kick, the Golden Tornado scored two plays later when Hill found Jackson Gonzales over the middle and the receiver did the rest – weaving in and out of tacklers on his way to a 44-yard score to make it 37-0 at the half. Gonzales finished with a team-high 99 yards on three receptions.
Hill was 10 of 14 passing for 202 yards and his 4 TDs. He also added 21 rushing yards on eight carries.
Perez led the team with 76 yards on seven carries, while Montgomery had 92 total yards. Robert Boyton had 33 yards on five carries – including a two-yard run to round out the scoring.
“We knew what we had as a team,” said Santa Barbara coach J.T. Stone. “We knew what it would take to get here. We believed in ourselves when people didn’t believe in us.
“This is a different Santa Barbara High football team,” he said. “Our expectations are high and we’re going to keep holding ourselves to that standard.”
Santa Barbara has now won seven-straight games – though it was an early season loss that Stone said sparked the team.
“I just think that St. Bonnie game really woke up our team,” he said, referencing the 31-6 loss on Sept. 13. “I’ve been coaching 17 years and that’s one game where I really saw a team response. Our film… it was emotional. Our guys owned it.
“That was a game that got us mentally over the hump,” Stone said. “Even though it was a loss, it was the best thing that could have happened to this football team.”
Santa Barbara, which has played all of its games this season at other team’s venues due to the ongoing construction at Peabody Stadium, will take its road tour to Palm Desert next week. The Golden Tornado – the No. 2 team in the CIF-SS Division 8 bracket — will matchup against the Aztecs, who defeated Temescal Canyon 34-14 Friday night.