Dons step up to challenge, beat DP to win share of league title

A tornado warning has been issued for Santa Barbara.

The Golden Tornado, Santa Barbara High’s football team nickname when it makes the CIF playoffs, is back. And, it’s back as champions of the Channel League.

Santa Barbara won a share of the league title on Friday night by beating Dos Pueblos, 24-17, before more than 4,000 fans at Scott O’Leary Stadium. The Dons and Chargers tied for first place with 3-1 records, but the Dons (8-2) will be the league’s No. 1 team for the playoffs and get a first-round home game next Friday.

The league title is Santa Barbara’s first since 2001. For DP (7-3), it’s the second title in three years.

Dons receiver Emilio Gonzalez reels in a pass with Chargers safety Jordan Degraffinreidto covering him. The catch put the dons in field goal territory late in the fourth quarter. (James Crosby photo)

As tradition has it, Santa Barbara will now break out the gold uniforms for the playoffs ? something that hasn’t happened since 2008.

The Dons turned in a golden performance on both sides of the ball at DP. Junior quarterback James “Eli” Hale played a terrific game in place of senior starter Shawn Ramos, who was suspended Wednesday for violating a school policy. Hale completed 14 of 19 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns and took command of the offense.

Tight end Emilio Gonzalez caught two touchdown passes and Jason Jimenez hauled in the other. Matt Medina kicked a 29-yard field goal.

Defensively, except for one big play for a touchdown by DP early in the first quarter, the Dons contained the Chargers’ running game.

“Hats off to their defense and the game plan they put together,” Dos Pueblos coach Nate Mendoza said of the Dons.

Santa Barara coach Doug Caines was thrilled with his team’s defensive effort.

“I don’t know what to say other than as the defensive coordinator, it does my heart proud,” he said. “I prepare and prepare and prepare, and my girlfriend hates me because this football mistress is very cruel to her, and I love her for being patient with me on those long nights and long weekends. The preparation paid off; the film time with the kids, the game planning with the kids, it paid off tonight, and it was awesome to watch them work.”

The Dos Pueblos running game suffered a blow when Dylan Rohde suffered a concussion on his second or third carry in the first quarter and left the game. On his first carry, Rohde burst off left tackle and ran 59 yards for a touchdown to tie the score at 7-7.

The loss of the speedy Rohde left the majority of the running duties to power back Anthony Spiritosanto, who plays every down on defense at linebacker.

The Dons were prepared for Spiritosanto. He was held to 38 yards rushing on 16 carries.

“Our noseguard Sal (Salvador Arrango) really stepped up this game,” said defensive tackle Mitchell Barrett. “I’m so proud of him; he had the game of his life. And, obviously, Carlos Orosco on the right side is one of those dominant players that gets penetration wherever he goes. I’m so proud of them both.”

Coach Caines prepared us and we stopped the run and made them throw,” said defensive back Efren Sanchez.

Sanchez ignited the Dons with a 63-yard punt return after the defense held DP to a three and out on its first possession.

Quarterback James Hale fights for extra yardage as Dos Pueblos defenders try to bring him down in the second quarter. (James Crosby photo)

Starting at the DP 10, the Dons’ Jason Jimenez lost four yards on the first play. On second down, Hale went to the air and hit Jimenez for a 14-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Dos Pueblos responded 20 seconds later. On first down, Rohde broke into the open on the left side and ran 59 yards for the tying touchdown.

The Dons turned the ball over on an interception and fumble on its next two possessions, but the defense bailed them out both times.

Dos Pueblos took the lead behind the play of quarterback LeShon Bell. He drove the Chargers 63 yards on 10 plays and threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Nico Bornand on a fourth-and-6.

Down 14-7, Hale stepped up and got the Dons even with an 80-yard drive. He got lots of help from Gonzalez, who made a one-handed circus catch for a first down and caught a game-tying 27-yard touchdown pass, where he reached over the defender to catch the ball.

For the Dons, it was the perfect time for a big game from Gonzalez, who’d been in and out of Caines’ doghouse during the season.

“The kid wears his heart on his sleeve,” Caines said of Gonzalez. “He’s an emotional man. It’s a yin and a yang with him, but at the end of the day, after the last football game, he made a commitment. He manned up this week and in this game and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Gonzalez scored the go-ahead touchdown for Santa Barbara when Hall rolled out out and hit him on a 27-yard pass with 8:28 left in the fourth quarter.

Hale played like he’d been the starter the whole season.

“Talk about the nerves, talk about the pressure, to step up in a game like this at a time like this, for what was on the line, I don’t know if there are many back-up junior quarterbacks that can do that,” said Caines.

Mendoza said he didn’t know what to expect from Hale, who had thrown only two passes this season.

“He gave a remarkable effort. He took some real big shots. He took a shot by No. 11 on our sideline where I didn’t think he’d get up. He got up and did a hell of a job the rest of the way.”

Hale hit Gonzalez for passes of 6 and 32 yards to help set the Dons up for Medina’s 29-yard field goal, which gave them a 24-14 lead with 3:13 left in the game.

Bell took to the air on DP’s next series. He hit Matt Sessler on a couple of passes and completed balls to Malcolm Cellard-Farrall and Bornand to reach the Santa Barbara 16. The drive stalled and Bornand kicked a 33-yard field goal to make a 24-17 game with 1:19 to go.

Bell completed 12 of 20 pass for 178 yards.

The Dons recovered an onsides kick, ran out the clock and then celebrated a championship for the first time since 2001.

It was an especially proud moment for former head coach and now assistant Jaime Melgoza, who brought several of the senior players up to the varsity when they were sophomores.

“This is the biggest reward ever,” Melgoza. “I am so happy for these kids and they deserve it. Since they were sophomores they’ve worked their butts off and it finally paid off. We got it. We got a Channel League championship and Santa Barbara is back on the map.”