The SBCC football team relied on the run once again in a big battle at Antelope Valley on Saturday, getting a go-ahead special teams touchdown late in the third quarter before defeating the Marauders 39-25.
The huge win gives the Vaqueros a 7-1 record for the second time in the Craig Moropoulos era. They improve to 3-0 in American Pacific League play while handing defending APL champion AVC (4-4, 2-1) its first conference loss.
“Number one, we wanted to win this game. This was a huge game because I told the team in order to be the top dog, you’ve got to beat the top dog,” Moropoulos said. “We established the running game. Anytime we can do that, it makes our offense click. Between runningbacks Mekhi Norfleet and Brandon Smith, they just pounded them.”
Santa Barbara ran the ball 45 times compared to 21 pass attempts, led by Smith’s 69 yards on 21 carries and two scores. He also added 40 receiving yards and another touchdown on two receptions. Smith now has over 100 yards from scrimmage in six of eight games this season. Norfleet finished with 63 yards on 14 attempts.
Aside from their stellar run game, the Vaqueros have relied heavily on a dominant special teams unit for the second straight year. After an 18-0 Marauder run put the home side up 25-24, receiver Kayden Chan turned the tide with a 50-yard punt return to put SBCC back ahead 32-25 following a Smith two-point conversion run. It was Chan’s second straight game with a return touchdown and his third straight overall finding the end zone.
“Make no mistake about it, the reason we’ve been as successful as we are is a lot due to our special teams, because a lot of the people we’ve played this year have nowhere near the special teams success that we do,” said Moropoulos. “That’s a credit to our coaching staff. When you play Santa Barbara, you better play all three phases, and that makes me real proud of my guys, my players and my coaches.”
Smith later capped the game off with a 32-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Alex Johnson with less than four minutes remaining in the game. Johnson finished 10-of-21 through the air for 135 yards and also had one pick.
“After they got back up, all of a sudden it’s real close so we needed to throw the ball a little bit. It was a good job, the ability to kind of take the pressure off our run game,” Moropoulos said. “That’s what we do, we run to set up the pass. When people start shutting down the run, we’re going to try to incorporate a quick game, play action and dropback, and that’s what happened today.”
Early on in the game, a high-scoring first quarter saw Antelope Valley jump out to a 7-0 lead, but the Vaqueros would turn things around in a big way. Smith ran one in from 10 yards out, and just eight seconds later, cornerback Jamari Cannon recovered a fumble for a defensive touchdown.
In the second quarter, Smith had another two-yard rushing touchdown and kicker Joe Bowman hit a 42-yard field goal to make it 24-7. It was Bowman’s fourth 40-yard field goal of the season.
The Vaquero defensive linemen forced another turnover in the second period, with Koby Sarna forcing a fumble that was recovered by Caleb McNeill-Tyler.
SBCC now turns its eyes to next Saturday, when it takes on a Moorpark (5-3, 3-0) team that is currently tied with the Vaqueros for first in the APL. An SBCC win would see the Vaqueros clinch their first conference title since 1991.
Michael Jorgenson works in communications/media relations at Santa Barbara City College.