Dons make big plays to beat Ventura, 25-17


A big pass play.

A big kick.

A big interception.

A big-time team effort in its most important game of the season.

Santa Barbara High’s football team got all of that and defeated defending Channel League champion Ventura 25-17 in another dramatic game at Peabody Stadium on Friday. The victory sets the Dons up to play for the league and city championship against Dos Pueblos next Friday.

Senior quarterback Shawn Ramos threw three touchdown passes, including an 80-yard bomb to James Stevens in the second quarter to put Santa Barbara into the lead for good.

Senior kicker Matt Medina booted a school-record 51-yard field goal and Efren Sanchez intercepted a Ventura pass in the end zone on the final play of the game to secure the Don’s seventh victory of the season against two defeats. They are 2-1 in the Channel League. Dos Pueblos leads the league at 3-0.

Ventura falls to 5-4 and 1-2.

Santa Barbara’s defense was put to the test right off the bat as Ventura running back Leo Camacho tore through the Dons for 57 yards on its first series. The drive stalled at the 10 and the Cougars settled for a 30-yard field goal by Jake Lanski for a 3-0 lead.

Santa Barbara answered back with an 80-yard drive for a touchdown. On third-and-17 from the Ventura 35, Ramos scrambled and found James Hale for the touchdown, giving the Dons a 7-3 lead.

The Dons’ defense stepped up the next time Ventura got the ball and forced the Cougars to punt from their 35. The center snap got away from punter Steve Ledesma and the ball rolled into the end zone. Santa Barbara’s Jason Jimenez tried to pick up the ball but it slipped away from him and Ledesma fell on it for a safety.

Down 9-7, Ventura’s offense went back to handing the ball to Camacho, and his hard running helped the Cougars regain the lead. Working with a short field after a 22-yard Dons punt, Camacho scored on a 16-yard run to give Ventura a 9-7 advantage.

But the lead didn’t last long. On Santa Barbara’s next possession, Ramos hit Stevens for an 80-yard touchdown to put the Dons back into the lead.

“We saw that (the cornerback) was playing up on me and he bit (on the fake) and Shawn just threw it over the top,” Stevens said. “We’ve been trying to do that all season long.”

Santa Barbara coach Doug Caines said Stevens was due for a big game.

“James was pretty frustrated last week against San Marcos,” Caines said. “He felt like he had something prove. He came to practice this week with something to prove and he sure did prove it in this game.”

A humble Ramos gave all the credit to Stevens.

“I feel like a get too much credit for these big plays. I just give the ball to the receivers and they do all the work, I don’t do much; the linemen block. We all do our jobs; we all do our assignments, that’s the key to us winning.”

A two-point conversion pass failed, leaving Santa Barbara with a 15-10 lead at halftime.

Ramos had a solid outing. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 221 yards.

After a 57-yard kickoff return by Sanchez to start the second half, the Dons moved the ball to the Ventura 26. On third-and-7, Ramos was dropped for a two-yard loss. They set up for a 45-yard field goal, but a five-yard penalty pushed the ball back to the 33. That left Medina with a 51-yard attempt. He cleared it by about two yards to beat the record of 50 yards last set by George Rios in 1989 and give Santa Barbara an 18-10 lead.

Medina said the penalty was no big deal. In fact, he was fine with the extra yardage because it gave him a shot at the record.

“I was glad,” he said. “It was a chance (at the record), and I’m glad I made it.”

Santa Barbara got a big break on its next possession as Ventura was flagged for roughing the kicker on a punt. The Dons capitalized on the mistake and scored a touchdown. Jonah Iwanaga made a diving catch of a 5-yard pass from Ramos to make it 25-10 with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Dons threatened to score again. They got down to the Ventura 5, but a penalty pushed them back to the 15. Ventura’s defense held and Medina came back on the field to try a 24-yard field. He never got a chance to kick it because of a low snap.

Ventura now had new life. The Cougars went back to Camacho and his running got them down to the Santa Barbara 15. Camacho rushed for 169 yards on 23 carries.

Ventura scored on a 15-yard pass from Ledesma to Brice Winans, cutting the Dons’ lead to 25-17.

The Cougars got a shot to tie the score after s 45-yard field goal attempt by Medina fell short. Ledesma completed passes of 26 and 22 yards and moved the ball to the Santa Barbara 29 with 15 seconds left in the game. He fired a pass into the end zone, but Sanchez, playing like a center fielder, stepped up, intercepted the ball and ran up field as the clocked expired.

Now the Dons get a shot at the league title.

“It’s everything I dreamed of,” said Ramos of the opportunity he’s been looking forward to since he was a little kid. “I’ve played 10 years; I went all through YFL just to be on this level and to wear those gold (CIF playoff) jerseys. That’s what our goal has been since my sophomore year. It’s not there yet, but that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Caines is also excited at the chance to play for the title in his first year as head coach.

“I’ve been part of some playoff runs here in ’07 and ’08 and none of those were for a league championship, so to speak, so it’s exciting we’re going to have an opportunity to do that.”