The SBCC football team had its chances in its season opener against Allan Hancock Saturday at La Playa Stadium, but a 3-0 disadvantage in the turnover game and some big plays by the Bulldogs would see the visitors take a 21-10 win.
Sophomore quarterback Alex Johnson finished with 168 yards on 15-of-30 passing, but three interceptions including a costly one on a deflected pass at the goal line would keep SBCC out of the end zone until the final minutes.
Taking over as signal caller for the Vaqueros’ final drive, sophomore Trenton Luera was exceptional with his chances, going 7-for-10 for 85 yards and a touchdown to freshman wideout Ryles Buckley from 11 yards out.
In his first game with the team, sophomore Brandon Smith was a huge bright spot out of the Vaqueros’ backfield. He took the lion’s share of handoffs, carrying the ball 16 times for 45 yards. He was a huge threat in the passing game as well, leading the team with six receptions for 80 yards.
Santa Barbara looked sharp on both sides of the ball to start the game. The defense forced punts on each of Hancock’s first two possessions, led by the activity of linebacker Amir Brown (9 tackles) and defensive lineman Jordan Tagaloa (4).
The offense got the Vaqueros in scoring position on its opening two drives. On third-and-10, Johnson hit sophomore wide receiver Chase Wells on his first pass attempt of the year. Wells looked sharp as he made moves past multiple defenders, taking a short pass for 37 yards. SBCC ended up with a 32-yard field goal attempt from Oregon State transfer Joe Bowman, but it went wide left leaving it a 0-0 game.
The Vaqueros went 11 plays on their next drive, with good runs by Smith and sophomore Mekhi Norfleet taking them deep into Bulldog territory. On third-and-goal at the one, Johnson’s pass out into the flat was deflected at the line, and cornerback Sidney Jefferies would take the missed opportunity back 45 yards.
The Bulldogs didn’t do much on offense until midway through the second. On their third possession, linebacker Aneterea Lealao helped force a punt with a first down sack. The Milpitas, CA native had a standout performance, finishing with three sacks in his first game as a freshman.
The fourth time the Bulldogs had the ball though, they would need just two plays to score, as a 41-yard rush by Dior Kennedy was followed by a 30-yard breakout run by JP Luketu to open the scoring.
The Vaqueros once again got the ball into the red zone, but a forced pass turned into another interception. After going run-heavy to start, the visitors finally took a deep shot on their first play after taking over. Quarterback Esekielu Storer made a convincing play action fake and loaded up, dropping a dime over the top to Jaleel Walker for a 63-yard touchdown, the longest play of the game.
Needing points coming out of halftime, Santa Barbara would threaten once again. A 26-yard catch-and-run by Smith put them at the Hancock 26-yard line, but three straight incomplete passes would bring the field goal unit back out. Bowman converted from 43 yards out for his first points as a Vaquero.
Unfortunately for the Vaqueros, they couldn’t keep the Bulldogs out of the end zone to start the fourth quarter and they took a 21-3 lead.
Luera entered the game with 5:56 remaining and immediately completed passes of 20 and 14 yards to Smith out of the backfield. SBCC would go pass on 10 of 11 plays before Luera’s touchdown to Buckley.
Up next for the Vaqueros are two road games, starting with a visit to Orange Coast next Saturday, Sept. 10. Kickoff will be at 6:00 p.m.
Michael Jorgenson works in communications/media relations at Santa Barbara City College.