Royals cash in on their returns, end Big Game skid, 27-20

The intensity of the 55th Big Game reached a boiling point Friday night at a jam-packed Peabody Stadium.

San Marcos drove down the field in the last four minutes, and quarterback Sage Reid plowed into the end zone on a 1-yard run with 14 seconds left to give the Royals a 27-20 City Championship victory over Santa Barbara High and snap a four-game losing streak in the crosstown rivalry.

The game was called after the ensuing kickoff, when a fight broke between players on the field and both benches emptied. It was the coaches who agreed to call the game with 14 seconds on the clock. Santa Barbara coach JT Stone ordered his team off the field and the Dons ran to their locker room.

“To end the season on that, it’s more frustrating and disappointing than anything because that’s not what I’m about and not what this team is about,” Stone said. “That’s my issue right now. San Marcos played its asses off, they played well and they beat us. Our guys need to understand that and take it like men.”

Said San Marcos coach Anthony Linebaugh: “It’s too bad we had what we had at the end. I know that’s not something coaches from either side want and everything. People want to win and it got a little out of hand.”

San Marcos celebrated with their fans on the field, and players dumped a cooler of water on Linebaugh, who won his first Big Game and City Championship.

“It can’t be a rivalry if it’s one-sided, so we’re happy to break through tonight. We’re looking forward to enjoying the win,” said Linebaugh.

The Royals finish the season 4-6 overall and 2-2 in league. Santa Barbara went 4-6, 1-3.

Like it did following Santa Barbara’s first two scores in the first half, San Marcos responded after the Dons took a 20-19 lead on a Brent Peus 10-yard pass to Chris Jellison with 4:06 left in the fourth quarter.

San Marcos quarterback Sage Reid gets pass protection from Ivan Reyes while making a throw. Reid scored the winning TD for the Royals.

San Marcos quarterback Sage Reid gets pass protection from Ivan Reyes while making a throw. Reid scored the winning TD for the Royals.

San Marcos scored its first half points on two kickoff returns after Santa Barbara touchdowns. Inri Cortez raced 97 yards on the first one and Garrett Paulson showed off his sprinter speed on an 85-yard return to the house. A pair of missed PATs left the Royals down 14-12 at the half.

After Jellison’s score, the Dons kicked the ball on the ground. The Royals still got a good return out of it and started their game-winning drive at the 50.

Santa Barbara’s defense swarmed Cortez for no gain on first down. The Dons were then hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, advancing the ball to the 37. San Marcos called on its workhorse running back Ivan Reyes and he delivered. Runs of 21, 6, 7, 2 and 1 yard moved the ball to the edge of the goal line.

“He ran his heart out,” said Linebaugh.

On third down, Reid plowed behind his offensive line for the deciding score. Reid then passed to D’shaun Vines for a 2-point conversion.

Reid played a solid game in the second half. He had a 40-yard run on the Royals’ opening drive of that led to a go-ahead touchdown. Reyes scored it for a 19-14 advantage.

“We knew what we had on the line,” said Reid, who missed last season with a serious knee injury.
“It feels great. I missed last year. It’s a great feeling to come back and win this game with all my teammates.”

“He’s a team-first guy and I’m happy for him because he’s so unselfish, and I think that’s a dying commodity at the high school level,” said Linebaugh of Reid.

Santa Barbara reclaimed the lead, driving 77-yards on 13 plays. Peus completed 6 of 9 passes on the drive and Isai Figueroa had a 22-yard run. Jellison ran a zig-zag route and Peus hit him perfectly for the score.

The Dons got off to a great start, scoring on their first series. They established a running game with Junior Garcia and scored the touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Peus to Danny Vallin, who made a nice move to get past a defender.

But the Dons suffered a blow when Garcia injured his knee and was unable to return to the game.

“It was huge because the game plan was to hand him the ball and pound it,” Stone said of Garcia.  “You could see from the first couple of touches he had that he’s tough to stop. Losing him did hurt, but we had our opportunities.”

San Marcos' Nathan Coffey catches Santa Barbara running back Junior Garcia from behind.

San Marcos’ Nathan Coffey catches Santa Barbara running back Junior Garcia from behind.

Santa Barbara was dealt another blow when Cortez took the ensuing kickoff at his 3-yard line and ran it all the way back, untouched. The Royals, however, missed the PAT, leaving them down, 7-6.

The Dons missed a scoring chance early in the second quarter when they were stopped twice at the 1 yard line.

They later got another chance in the red zone and converted.. Peus hit Figueroa on a 5-yard pass for the score and a 14-6 lead with 41 seconds left in the first half.

But lightning struck the Dons again as San Marcos returned the kickoff for another TD. Paulson caught the ball at the 15 and turned on the jets, leaving Santa Barbara defenders in his wake for an 85-yard return. The Royals missed on a 2-point conversion attempting and trailed 14-12 at halftime.

“We hadn’t had one returned for a touchdown and that’s been a tradition at the school. I get two in one half, and I’ve never seen that in 17 years of coaching,” Linebaugh said.

“Special teams definitely play in the outcome of games,” said Stone.

Despite being down at halftime, Linebaugh felt his team won two of the three phases of a football game.

“You win two out of three you’re going to have a great chance to win the football game,” he said.”First half, I really felt we won defense and special teams; the offense didn’t do the job. We said (at halftime) we have to do a better job in the second half, which we did. I felt we won all three phases in the second half. That was key to victory.”

Reyes gave San Marcos its first lead when he scored from 2 yards to cap a 78-yard drive in the third quarter.

Reyes, who rushed for 110 yards on 17 carries, was named the winner of the Gary Blades Memorial Trophy as the game’s MVP.