Doug Caines is a young coach, but he might be headed for some premature aging if his Santa Barbara High football team is involved in more games like Friday night’s season opener.
The Dons pulled out a 25-22 thriller over St. Joseph that was decided on the last play at a Peabody Stadium. Senior Emilio Gonzalez back peddled, leaped and knocked away a Scotty Cusack pass on a fake field-goal play with six seconds left to secure the victory.
The big defensive play set off a wild Santa Barbara celebration, during which Caines was doused with water from the water cooler.
“Once I saw (the receiver) pull up I ran back as fast as I could and got it,” said Gonzalez, who also excels in basketball.
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“It’s a hell of an effort by the guy,” said Caines of the play. “It’s all heart, it’s all effort; he’s dead tired, he’s playing both ways. Me and him have a tumultuous relationship but at the end of the day, I love the kid because he goes hard and puts it all on the field, and he did that tonight.”
“It’s a great way to start of my senior year,” Gonzalez said of the dramatic win.
Gonzalez also scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:15 left in the game, catching a 9-yard strike from senior quarterback Shawn Ramos.
The touchdown drive was set up by a failed gamble by St. Joseph coach Dustin Davis. The Knights faced a fourth-and-2 at their 41 with 3:18 to go and a 22-18 lead. Davis elected to go for the first down, but the Dons defense stopped 220-pound running back Wesley Williams a yard shot.
“I probably got a little too aggressive going for it on fourth and whatever,” Davis said. “We probably should have punted and tried to defend. That one is on me.”
Ramos went to work and completed passes of 13 yards to Gonzalez and 16 to Skyler Payvovich. Fullback Rudy Corrales ran four yards to the 11 and Ramos hit Gonzalez for the go-ahead score on a rollout to the left.
On a night when Dons running back Cheroke Cunningham was shut down by a stout St. Joseph defense (18 carries for 25 yards), it was Ramos who burned the Knights with his legs (5 carries for 50 yards). He scored on a 1-yard plunge with three seconds left before halftime to give the Dons a 9-8 lead and took off on a 37-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown to put Santa Barbara ahead 18-15 with 7:03 left in the game.
“If something doesn’t work for us, we’ll do something different,” said Ramos of his option to run.
“A few of those are designed a few not designed, but me made it work” said Caines of the Ramos scrambles. “That’s what playing in 22 varsity games will do for you.”
Caines and Gonzalez credited St. Joseph for playing a strong defensive game.
“St. Joseph, for a small school, they got a bunch of hard-hitting, solid kids,” said Gonzalez. “They pushed hard and we pushed hard. I guess we got a bigger push in the end.”
Said Caines: “St. Joseph has an amazing defensive line up front. Those guys are one damn good front.”
Ramos had a good night passing, completing 22 of 35 for 248 yards, with one interception and a touchdown.
The Dons’ lead was short lived as Cusack took the ensuing kickoff and raced 96 yards to put the Knights back in front 22-18.
Santa Barbara got the first break in the game when Carlos Orozco recovered a fumble at the St. Joseph 27 on the Knights’ first possession. The Dons settled for a 34-yard field goal by Matt Medina.
St. Joseph took an 8-3 lead after Chris Barganier intercepted a Ramos pass at the 19-yard-line.
Operating a no-huddle offense, Knights’ quarterback Curry Parham directed his team down the field and hit wide receiver Zak Karsh for a 28-yard touchdown pass. St. Joseph faked the point-after kick, with the holder flipping the ball to Cusack, who threw to Karsh for a two-point conversion.
Santa Barbara countered with an 81-yard drive of its own. Ramos completed five passes on the drive, including a 27-yarder to Gonzalez to set up his 1-yard touchdown run. A pass for a two-point conversion fell incomplete, leaving the score 9-8 at halftime.
Parham drove St. Joseph 74 yards to put the Knights back in front, 15-9. He completed a 35-yard pass to Karsh and a 22-yarder to Cusack before Williams finished the drive with a 1-yard run with 4:36 left in the third quarter.
Santa Barbara was driving again, but a clutch defensive play by Clay Teixeira broke up a pass intended for Gonzalez on third-and-4 from the 27. Medina was short on a 44-yard field goal, leaving the Dons behind by six.
The Dons defense came up big on the next series. They dropped Parham for a six-yard loss, leaving St Joseph with a fourth-and-14 from the 16. On the Knights’ attempted punt, the ball was snapped over the punter’s head and out of the end zone for a safety. Santa Barbara now trailed 15-11 early in the fourth quarter.
St. Joseph kicked off and Santa Barbara took possession at the Knights’ 46. Ramos and Gonzalez came up big on this drive. First, Gonzalez made a terrific catch between two defenders for 11-yards on a third-and-8 play. Then Ramos stunned the St. Joseph defense with his 37-yard scamper on the quarterback draw for a go-ahead touchdown.
St. Joseph…0 8 7 7 — 22
Santa Barbara…3 6 0 16 — 25
SJ—Karsh 28 pass from Parham (Adam kick)
SB—Ramos 1 run (pass faield)
SJ—Williams 1 run (Adam kick)
SB—Safety, ball snapped out of end zone
SB—Ramos 37 run (Medina kick)
SJ—Cusack 94 kickoff return (Adam kick)
SB—Gonzalez 9 pass from Ramos (Medina kick)