By MICHAEL JORGENSON
SBCC SPORTS WRITER
Facing Moorpark in its last regular season road game of 2021, the SBCC football team put together two go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter to defeat the Raiders 27-24 on Saturday.
Quarterback Alex Johnson threw for more than 200 yards for the third straight start, totaling 253 on 16-of-36 with two touchdowns and one interception. He connected with receiver Marcus Bellon for a 26-yard score to open the fourth before contributing to 48 yards on the game-winning drive to set up kicker Jorge Figueroa from 29 yards out.
It was the second winning kick of the year for Figueroa, sending the Vaqueros to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the American Pacific League. Moorpark falls to 3-5 overall and 2-1 in league play.
“The best thing about it was that it was a three-way win – offense, defense and kicking game,” head coach Craig Moropolous said. “Jerry Martin ran the ball really well tonight for us. Chase Wells at the wide receiver position had some huge catches, and (there was) Zach Schipper with some really good play up front in the defensive line. Just a lot of guys making plays. It was a great team win, and that’s the kind of thing you like as a coach.”
Trailing by three with 1:46 remaining in the fourth, the Raiders started their final possession at their own 29. On a 4th-and-1 near midfield, quarterback Trae Johnson’s final throw of the day was picked off by linebacker Zach Schipper, sealing the Vaquero victory. Schipper also led SBCC with two tackles for a loss.
“We came out, scored 14 points and then kind of slowed it down, and in that second half kind of rose up when we needed to. We did some really good things defensively and made some big plays,” Moropolous said. “We got points on the board when we really needed to, got a big field goal and then were able to knock a lot of time off the clock in the fourth quarter which was really good.”
The Vaqueros jumped out to an early two-score advantage with touchdowns in quick succession. They went 79 yards on 11 plays on their opening drive, capped by a 5-yard run from Mekhi Norfleet to make it 7-0.
Defensive back Nico Mattera intercepted Moorpark quarterback Trae Johnson on the first play of the Raiders’ next drive, starting the Vaqueros at the opposing 32. After a few good runs from Omari Taylor, Alex Johnson found receiver Chase Wells for a 13-yard score to double the lead.
The fast start came to a halt as the Raiders scored the next 17 points, taking their first lead less than two minutes into the second half. The Vaqueros later tied things at 17-17 on a Figueroa field goal midway through the third.
With 13:54 left in the game, Santa Barbara took over at the Raiders’ 26-yard line. That’s when Alex Johnson found Bellon for his 26-yard touchdown to put the Vaqueros up 24-17, but Moorpark’s Daniel Pierce took the ensuing kickoff back 77 yards to the house to quickly tie things back up.
Santa Barbara held the ball for more than 11 minutes in the fourth quarter. Figueroa’s second kick capped a 12-play, 50-yard drive leaving 8:39 on the clock. The Vaqueros took off another 5:00 of game time with their next 10-play drive, which included a big 13-yard conversion from Johnson to Wells on third-and-10.
“With Alex, it’s just the maturation. He made a mistake tonight, threw a ball as he got hit that was intercepted, but he didn’t let it get him down,” said Moropolous. “But he came back and threw a dime on a route to get a touchdown. When you don’t get down about something, you don’t dwell on a mistake, you just move on, it’s just things like that. He’s doing a really good job of running the offense and we’re just really proud of him.”
Jerry Martin carried 13 times to lead all players with 85 rushing yards – 21 more than Moorpark’s entire team. Fellow runningback Mekhi Norfleet finished with 78 yards from scrimmage. He reached the end zone for the fourth time this year, which ties Bellon for the team-lead. Bellon finished with 61 all-purpose yards.
Chase Wells was Alex Johnson’s favorite target on the outside, continuing his momentum from last Saturday’s game at Antelope Valley. He caught seven balls for the second straight week and set a new season-best with 97 receiving yards.
Figueroa had another perfect day going 2-for-2 on field goals and 3-for-3 on extra points. The Las Cruces, N.M., athlete is now 10-of-12 on field goals this season.
It’s the first time the Vaqueros have made 10 field goals since they went 10-for-11 in 2014. It’s also double their total of five makes from their most recent season in 2019.
“In my time here, we’ve had some good special teams, and the kicker is a tough job,” Moropolous said. “Jorge has done a great job this year. He’s becoming very reliable, someone that I have a lot of confidence in, and he got it done again tonight.”
SBCC will be back playing at La Playa Stadium on each of the next two Saturdays, starting with a 1 p.m. meeting this week against Santa Monica. The Vaqueros’ game against Orange Coast — originally scheduled for Sept. 18 — has been rescheduled for Nov. 20.
Michael Jorgenson works in media relations/communications at Santa Barbara City College.