VENTURA — Two years ago at Ventura’s Larrabee Stadium, then-sophomore Nico Bornand kicked a game-winning field goal to beat the Cougars and give the Dos Pueblos football team the Channel League championship.
On Friday night at the same venue, Bornand came up huge again for the Chargers and put them on a path toward another league title. The senior kicked two field goals, three extra points, set up a touchdown with an interception and stopped Ventura’s standout running back on a fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line with 58 seconds left to preserve a dramatic 27-21 victory.
The win over the defending league champions puts DP on a title track at 2-0 in league. The Chargers, who have a bye next week, are 6-2 mark overall. Ventura, which was coming off a bye week, is 0-1 and 4-3.
“It was a great emotional win for sure,” first-year DP coach Nate Mendoza said. “I can’t say enough of how huge that win was for us.”
On Bornand’s performance, Mendoza said: “I can’t say enough about the guy. He just continues to be the guy on the team.”
Bornand booted a 35-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to break a 14-14 tie. Ventura tried to ice him by calling back-to-back timeouts, but he wouldn’t fall for the tactics and blasted the ball straight through the uprights.
He stuck it to the Cougars in the third quarter by intercepting a Steven Ledesma pass and returning it 24 yards to the Cougar 4. Four plays later, Anthony Spiritosanto scored on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard runs to put the Chargers up 24=14.
Spiritosanto and Jarad Starr dropped Ledesma for a 1-yard loss, forcing Ventura to punt from its 18.
The Chargers got the ball at their 39 and moved to the Ventura 30, where they had a fourth-and-seven. Bornand made sure his team came away with points by nailing a 45-yard field goal to make it 27-14 with seven minutes to go in the game.
Ventura showed its character and responded with an 81-yard drive for a touchdown. Running back Leo Camacho scored on a 3-yard run, cutting DP’s lead to 27-21 with plenty of time left.
The Cougars got the ball back with 3:07 remaining and, behind runs by Camacho and a 24-yard pass from Ledesma to Jon Kroll, they drove to the DP 3. On third-and-goal, Charger defensive tackle Jason Schwartz came up with a huge play, sacking Ledesma for a three-yard loss. On the next play, they handed the ball to Camacho and he was swallowed up by Bornand. The 6-2, 230-pound middle linebacker grabbed the running back and wrestled him to the ground with 58 seconds left in the game.
“I thought we’d win at the end,” Ventura coach Brad Steward said. “I thought it was going to be a great win for us, but they made plays and it was a great win for them.”
Asked about his play choice on the fourth and goal, Steward replied: “Sometimes you call something up and it works and sometimes you call up something and it doesn’t. You got to put it in the kids’ hands and let them play. Their kids made a better play than our kids did.”
Bornand said he expected the Cougars to pass on the game-deciding play. Ledesma showed a nice touch throwing the ball. He completed 13 of 20 for 205 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.
“I was really surprised,” Bornand said. “We thought (the fourth-down play) was going to be a pass. We stuffed through on that and played some disciplined football.
“Our D line kept them right there, which made it able for the linebackers to fill and I was the lucky one to make the tackle. I couldn’t have done it without the team, though.”
“It was just a huge stop down there, and a great defensive stand at the goal line,” said Mendoza. “That was high pressure right there, but the boys stepped up and came up with that tackle toward the end.”
DP quarterback LeShon Bell ran out the clock and the Chargers ran off the Larrabee Stadium turf with arguably their biggest win of the season.
Bell did a nice job running the DP offense, Mendoza noted.
Bell ran for 65 yards on 13 carries and completed 5 of 8 passes for 44 yards.
“We liked the way he controlled that huddle. We didn’t have turnovers that cost us anything. That was probably the biggest thing,” the coach said.
Steward said turnovers proved to be costly to his squad. Besides Bornand’s interception that led to a DP score, the Cougars fumbled at their 39 in the first half and the Chargers capitalized with a 37-yard touchdown run by Spiritosanto on second down.
“If We don’t turn the ball over deep in our end or throw those interceptions, it’s a completely different game,” said Steward
A Ventura miscue set up DP’s first score in the second quarter. The Cougars fell on bad snap at their 6 on third down. After and punt and 24-yard return, the Chargers started from the Cougar 26. Dylan Rhode ran for 23 yards on first down and Bell scored on a 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
Ledesma got the Cougars even with a beautiful 37-yard scoring strike to Jordan Garcia.
The teams traded touchdowns again, Spiritosanto giving DP a 14-7 lead on a 37-yard run off left tackle and Ventura tying the score on a 2-yard run by Camacho with 1:43 left in the first half.
That was enough time for Bell to drive his team into field-goal range. He broke free on a 20-yard keeper and completed a 20-yard pass to Robert Gulvin to put the ball at the Ventura 20. With 9 seconds left, he moved the ball to the center for Bornand’s 35-yard field-goal attempt.
And Bornand delivered.
“Every play mattered tonight,” said Mendoza.