There are times in coaching when you want to kick the football, and times when you just want to kick yourself.
Santa Barbara High coach J.T. Stone would have nothing to do with either at the end of Saturday night’s heart-breaking, 24-21 defeat to Sunny Hills in the CIF-Southern Section Division 8 championship game at Warkentin Stadium.
The Golden Tornado had put the reliable Ty Montgomery into position to kick a game-tying field goal. Stone went for the win instead of the Ty tie, however, and the championship trophy soon went bye-bye.
Sunny Hills’ Cal Wilson stepped in front of Jake Knecht to intercept Deacon Hill’s pass in the end zone with 32.1 seconds remaining and dash the Tornado’s title hopes.
“I wouldn’t take anything back,” Stone said. “It’s playoff football. Every play is valuable.”
Every first down was valuable in 1948 when a Santa Barbara team led by future Baseball Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews tied St. Anthony 7-7 in the CIF final at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The CIF commissioner decided to award the championship to St. Anthony since it had 16 first downs to Santa Barbara’s 12.
Three decades ago, Tornado quarterback Poncho Renteria wasn’t happy that he wasn’t allowed to play off a 7-7 tie with Muir in the 1989 final. The two teams were declared co-champions.
The CIF-Southern Section has since used overtime to break a tie, but Stone wanted the game settled in regulation time.
“We were trying to score,” Stone said. “I felt we had enough time to kick the field goal but we were definitely try to score and win the game.”
Second-guessing is reserved for those who finish second, and Stone admitted that he would’ve liked a few do-overs.
The Tornado used its last timeout with 3:31 still left in the third quarter, and that tied his hands near the end. He would’ve preferred the luxury of having Montgomery and Justin Perez run the ball more after they’d combined to gain 111 yards on 25 carries.
“I wish we didn’t get behind so we could’ve run it a little bit more, but it just didn’t happen that way,” Stone said. “Ty has played exceptional all year, Justin has played exceptional.
“Those guys are going to be back and they’re going to anchor the team next year.”
The 20-20 vision of hindsight also got him to admit that “we should’ve called corner-post” on Santa Barbara’s final play.
“They doubled Dakota (Hill),” Stone said. “If Deacon just puts that ball a little further, we have an opportunity to get that.
“It wasn’t the best pass, but his decision to throw that ball was right there.”
Hill had been spot-on throughout the playoffs, completing 42 of 59 attempts for 739 yards without an interception in the Tornado’s three victories.
But the rain which had stopped early in the game resumed after the intermission. Hill completed 9 of his first 10 passes on Saturday but finished just 18-for-31, throwing a pair of interceptions. The first one came on a screen pass which set up Sunny Hills’ first touchdown early in the second half. The throw was intended for Montgomery, but 6-foot-2 and 210-pound lineman Kenny Lathrum was waiting for it.
“We should’ve put the ball in the dirt, but good game-planning by them,” Stone said. “In playoff games, you take advantage of those opportunities, and they did that.”
Perhaps the Lancers’ best strategy was its rope-a-dope offense. They ran the ball 48 times and passed on only 14 downs, but they saved their throws when they counted most.
Luke Duxbury flung a TD pass to a wide-open Vincent Silva on third down at the Tornado 5-yard line with 7:26 left in the game after sucking in Santa Barbara’s defense with a play-action fake. The score reduced the Lancers’ deficit to 21-17.
The Tornado fell for it again with just 1:38 to go. The Lancers, after rushing on five straight plays to get to its own 42, caught the Tornado’s defense loading up to defend another run even though the lack of time dictated that Sunny Hills start throwing the ball.
Silva slipped behind Santa Barbara’s thinned out secondary and caught a remarkably easy, game-winning, 58-yard TD pass.
“We had everybody in the box and they saw that,” Stone said. “Obviously, they’re running the football, so we have our safeties in the box.
“Our safety bit too hard. That was just a great call by them. That was just an extremely great call by them.”
And perhaps a defensive call that Santa Barbara would like to have back.
But Stone’s been around long enough to know that every decision comes with risk, including Deacon Hill’s final pass of 2019.
“If you give him the ball again, I guarantee that he will make that touchdown,” he said.
He’ll be back in 2020 to give it another try.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.