The Santa Barbara High football team seniors who have been starting since their sophomore year have yet to make the playoffs or win the Channel League, but they have the pleasure of winning three Big Games.
The Dons made it three in a row on Friday night by capturing the 53rd edition of the annual rivalry game with San Marcos. Quarterback Shawn Ramos threw two touchdown passes and Jason Jimenez ran for a pair of scores in a 35-14 victory before a big crowd at Peabody Stadium.
Ramos and Jimenez are part of a core group of seniors who were brought up to the varsity when they were sophomores.
Ramos was sharp throwing the ball. He completed 10 of 16 for 187 yards and was named winner of the Gary Blades Award as the game MVP. His touchdown passes to fullback Rudy Corrales and Efrain Sanchez give him 15 for the season.
Jimenez rushed for 102 yards on 13 carries and scored on runs of 45 and 7 yards.
“This is even better than the first one,” said Jimenez, who also made several tackles as a linebacker.
Asked if winning the Big Game as a coach felt different than being a player in the game, Santa Barbara coach Doug Caines said: “My head hurts more than I remember as a player.”
The victory keeps Santa Barbara in the title hunt, evening its league record to 1-1 and improving the overall mark to 6-2.
San Marcos (1-7, 1-3) got an impressive performance from running back Esteban Alfaro, who rushed for 118 yards on 24 carries. Quarterback Austin Pugh passed for a touchdown, ran for one and played well for the Royals.
Pugh threw a 9-yard pass to Cameron Whitney with eight seconds left in the first half to cut Santa Barbara’s lead to 14-7.
The Dons stepped up their play in the second half and pulled away.
“We came straight out flat,” said Corrales of the first half performance. “We thought we were going to roll on these guys. They came out to play. We picked it up in the second half and made things work.”
Caines said his team needed an attitude readjustment at halftime, but added that a Big Game should be close.
“It’s exciting,” Caines said. “We don’t want a blowout game. I wanted the kids to be excited that it’s close. That’s what this game is about. It doesn’t matter who’s winning or who’s losing. It’s the rivalry game, it’s always supposed to start close, and the game sure did deliver.”
He said the difference in the two halves was a matter of execution.
“We were able to make some adjustments and come out fierce in the second and execute, which is my mantra around here,” Caines said.
The Dons hurt themselves in the first half with a slew of penalties.
“We still seem to be the Bad News Bears in terms of penalties, but we’re trying to right that ship,” said Caines.
San Marcos coach Anthony Linebaugh, who also was making his Big Game coaching debut, said his team had to play mistake-free football to beat Santa Barbara.
“We had to minimize penalties and minimize big plays and honestly those two things got us,” he said
Ramos passed to Corrales in the left flat and the senior powered his way into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown to make it 21-7.
Santa Barbara made it 28-7 on its next possession. Again, Ramos threw short to Corrales and the fullback ran over tacklers on a 29-yard play that took the ball to the San Marcos 7.
“That’s what I do; I’m a downhill runner. I’ll get you,” said Corrales.
“He’s one of the toughest guys on the team,” Caines said. “He gives it everything. When the game is on the line, he’s going to bring his shoulder pads.”
Jimenez ran the final seven yards for the touchdown.
Ramos’ passing set up the Dons’ final score. He threw to James Hale for a 40-yard play, tossed a 14-yarder to Corrales and found Efrain Sanchez for the touchdown on a 26-yard strike.
“We had some breakdowns in the second half,” Linebaugh said. “It wasn’t like we were driven on. They had one nice drive. You can’t give up big plays in big games.”
Pugh drove the Royals 67 yards for their second touchdown. He had a 49-yard run on a keeper and plowed 1 yard over the goal line for the score.
“Pugh and Cameron have done a great job,” Linebaugh said. “Their play really exemplifies and epitomizes the spirit of truly playing together. “I’m proud of these guys, they really are a team. I’m proud to coach them.”
Linebaugh used a little gamesmanship at the start of the game. His team warmed up at San Marcos and arrived at Peabody Stadium following the national anthem. That had nearly everyone at the stadium scratching their heads, wondering what was going on.
The ploy seemed to throw off Santa Barbara. It went three-and-out on its first possession and Whitney picked off a Ramos pass on the Dons’ second possession.
When asked about it after the game, Linebaugh looked back at a reporter and didn’t say a word. Then he replied with a smile, “I’ll let you use your creative juices on that.”
The first half also included the scoreboard going out for a few minutes.
The Dons broke the scoreless game on a 19-yard reverse by wide receiver Jonah Iwanaga. Matt Medina kicked the first of his five extra points for a 7-0 lead at 9:55 of the second quarter.
Just a little over two minutes later, Jimenez broke free from San Marcos tacklers and rambled 45 yards for a touchdown, putting the Dons up 14-0.
Santa Barbara had the lead but its offense kept hurting itself with penalties.
“We had a slow first half,” Ramos said. “I couldn’t find my rhythm, and the boys helped me get through it. In the second half, everything started working, things started clicking. I threw the ball short down field and the receivers started making things happen.”