They’ll be talking about this one for a long, long time.
Peabody Stadium was roaring on Saturday afternoon as Santa Barbara High and San Marcos held their first alumni football “Big Game” since 1985, and it was everything anyone could have wanted.
The game came down to the wire, ending in a 10-10 draw.
“The hitting was as intense as any football game. The guys wanted it, and they all wanted to hit. We all got after it out there today, so it was great,” said lineman Brad Emerson, 47, a 1981 graduate of Santa Barbara.
What made the day particularly special was the presence of Emerson’s classmate, former NFL great Randall Cunningham. At halftime, Cunningham was joined on the field by his former coach, Mike Moropoulos, in a ceremony to retire his jersey. His older brother, ex-USC and NFL star Sam Cunningham, also had his jersey retired but was unable to attend the game. His brother AC, also a Don, accepted on his behalf.
“My best memories are the teammates, and just being out here and doing it as a unit rather than as an individual,” said Randall Cunningham, who did not get in the game.
There were no major injuries on the day and it was a clean game, one of the many reasons why organizers like Matt Johnston (San Marcos ’80) were elated with how things turned out.
“I think we showcased our programs to the community in a positive light, which is huge,” he said. “I’m really happy with it, and we can go to the celebration and no one has the stink of defeat on them. It’s been a ton of work and a lot of headaches, but it’s all worth it today.”
San Marcos struck first, as Esteban Plascencia capped a 16-play, 67-yard drive with a 30-yard field goal to put the Royals up 3-0 with 5:04 to go in the third.
Santa Barbara’s response was swift, as 2002 graduates Preston Maloney and David Garcia hooked up on three consecutive passes to account for the final 34 yards of the ensuing drive. The final play was a 6-yard touchdown strike from Maloney to Garcia with 1:26 left in the half to make it 7-3 Dons.
Quarterback Poncho Renteria (’90) found tight end Chris Nelson (’93) on a 15-yard slant route early in the fourth quarter to convert on third-and-9, and five plays later kicker George Rios (’90) booted a 32-yard field goal to put the Dons up 10-3. Renteria would finish the day 8-for-17 with 137 yards through the air, while Maloney went 11-for-16 with 82 yards.
San Marcos brought the ensuing kickoff back to the 38-yard-line, and quarterback David Lopez (’91) led an 8-play drive that culminated in an 18-yard scoring pass to a wide-open Jeremy Burrey (’03) that tied the score with 8:56 left. During the drive, Lopez also completed a 7-yard pass to Mario Reyes (’98) and a 17-yarder to Chris Janeway (’04). Santa Barbara was also called for a 15-yard penalty on a third-down play that aided the Royals’ efforts.
Santa Barbara’s offense came back out and marched all the way down to the Royals’ 23, facing a fourth-and-2. Lineman Michael Dean (’01) came up with the defensive play of the game, tackling Garcia in the backfield to give that ball back to the Royals.
Santa Barbara got one more golden opportunity on its final possession. Renteria connected with Garcia on a 46-yard pass play that put the Dons all the way down on the San Marcos 10 with 45 seconds left. Three straight passes to the end zone didn’t connect, and a 27-yard field goal attempt with 23 ticks remaining was wide right.
San Marcos took a knee on the next play to end the game in a deadlock.
“It was so much fun. It was one of the best games of my life,” said Norm Kittle, a 1992 San Marcos grad. “There were definitely some hits out there. I wish we could play overtime.”
Garcia echoed the overtime sentiment with a little more emphasis.
“I’d do anything for overtime. If I were dead I’d come back from the grave to play overtime,” he said. “But it was a good game, and best of luck to everyone who’s going back out and doing whatever they do. Hopefully we can do this again in 30 years.”
For those a little older, like Emerson, overtime wasn’t as appealing an idea.
“I just want a beer,” he said.
He earned it, along with everyone else.
SAN MARCOS 10, SANTA BARBARA 10
San Marcos…0 3 0 7 — 10
Santa Barbara…0 7 0 3 — 10
SM — Plascencia 30 kick, 5:04
SB — Garcia 6 pass from Maloney (Rios kick), 1:26
SB — Rios 32 kick, 12:02
SM — Burrey 18 pass from Lopez (Harbison kick), 8:56
TEAM STATISTICS….SM, SB
Passing Yards…100, 219
Total Yards…183, 284
Rushing — SM: Garcia 1-0, Leholm 1-1, Torres 5-5, Nolan 3-7, Pickett 1-0, Talkington 2-(-4), Molinar 2-4, Cabugos 1-4, Torres 3-16, Ramirez 8-16, Jennings 5-4, Diaz 3-13, Escalera 2-10, Franzen 1-7. SB: Garcia 13-27, Maloney 2-3, Gil 2-17, Renteria 3-(-2), Hurst 8-20.
Passing — SM: Talkington 1-2-7, Espiritu 7-12-82, Leholm 0-1-0, Torres 1-2-11. SB: Renteria 8-17-137, Maloney 11-16-82.
Receiving — SM: Reyes 1-7, Janeway 1-17, Franzen 1-14, Santana 1-7, Jennings 2-21, Diaz 2-16, Burrey 1-18. SB: Bolden 2-27, Diaz 7-38, Nelson 3-48, Garcia 4-77, Hurst 1-12, Corlett 1-5, Bisquera 1-10.