Dons fall short in a shootout with Rio Mesa, 47-45


Putting 45 points on the scoreboard wasn’t enough for the Santa Barbara High football team Friday night.

Visiting Rio Mesa scored on three straight possessions to start the second half and rallied past the Dons, 47-45, handing them their first loss of the season in a non-league shootout at Peabody Stadium.

After falling behind 24-14 in the first half, the Spartans (3-1) caught the Dons at 31-31 on a crazy play. On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, running back Josiah King had the ball stripped from him by Santa Barbara defenders. The ball, however, bounced into the hands of Rio Mesa’s Joe Diaz and he rambled 60 yards for a touchdown. Steve Sanchez’s PAT tied the score.

“That one fumble changed the game,” Santa Barbara coach JT Stone said. “But we had opportunities. We got into the red zone twice and couldn’t punch it in.”

Santa Barbara quarterback Brent Peus drove the Dons to the Rio Mesa 6 on their next possession. The drive stalled and they missed a 23-yard field goal attempt.

Rio Mesa responded with an 80-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown. The Spartans pounded the ball with running back Michael Kytica and finished the drive with a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Maciel to wide receiver Jonathan Lenard. Lenard, a San Diego State commit, caught the pass in the right flat, turned on the afterburners and left Dons defenders in his wake. The PAT was missed, leaving the Spartans with a 37-31 lead.

Santa Barbara came right back and drove to the Rio Mesa 5. On third down, Peus was sacked for an 11-yard loss by Alejandro Macias. On fourth down from the 16, Peus fired a pass to Chris “Tick” Jellison at the near pylon but the ball went off his hands.

“We got a couple of stops in the second half and I think that was the difference in the game,” said Rio Mesa coach Jim Bittner. “Once we got ahead we had the opportunity to pin our ears back and get after them. I felt that was the turning point in the third quarter.”

Eddie Guerrero, Rio Mesa’s starter in its two-quarterback system, engineered another scoring drive for the Spartans, taking them 84 yards in 13 plays. King scored on a 14-yard run against a tiring Santa Barbara defense for a 44-31 advantage with 6:50 left in the fourth quarter.

“We got to go back and clean up some things defensively,”said Stone. “Our kids have to want to tackle. We’re going to go back to the drawing board and find 11 guys who want to tackle.”

Santa Barbara still had a shot at pulling the game out. On the Dons’ next possession, Peus completed passes to Jellison, Sean Babcock and Mason Bigelow to move the ball from their 39 to the Rio Mesa 20. On second down, Peus threw a screen pass to Babcock and he ran it in for the touchdown. The PAT was blocked, leaving the Dons behind, 44-37 with 4:09 to go.

But Rio Mesa continued to move the ball against the Dons defense. The Spartans got to the 11, and Sanchez kicked a 28-yard field goal to stretch their lead to 47-37 with 1:45 left.

Santa Barbara’s offense wasn’t done, either. It took advantage of a couple of Rio Mesa personal foul penalties and got to the 5. Peus hit Babcock for a touchdown and completed a 2-point conversion pass to Jellison, cutting the deficit to 47-45 with 32 seconds to go.

The Dons tried an onsides kick that got through the first line of Rio Mesa players but the Spartans’ second line recovered it. They then ran out the clock.

Despite the loss, Stone liked how his team fought till the final whistle. It was the first close game of the season for the Dons (3-1).

“I don’t walk away from this discouraged by any means,” Stone said. “We had to play four quarters. But I look at our offense and we put up 45 points. We get a couple of stops and do some things defensively… This was good for us. It leaves a nasty taste in our mouth. But we might see these guys again, if everything works out, in the playoffs. We’ve got to fix some things.”

Donovan Zavaleta got Santa Barbara going at the start, returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. He took the ball up the middle, broke to the left sideline and never looked back.

“Donovan is all of 5-5, 5-6, but he competes like no other,” Stone said. “Anytime he touches the ball, we expect him to go to the house every single time.”

Rio Mesa responded with a touchdown on its first possession. Guerrero hit Washington State-bound Stevie Houston for 41 yards and finished the drive with a 4-yard toss to Lenard. Houston caught 7 passes for 159 yards and Lenard caught 3 for 60 yards and two scores.

Peus brought the Dons back on a 75-yard drive, capped by Babcock’s 2-yard run.

Peus had a good night throwing the ball, completing 25 of 35 passes for 350 yards and four scores.

Rio Mesa tied the score at 14-14 on a 42-yard run by Kytica with 17 seconds left in the first quarter.

Santa Barbara opened up a 24-14 lead. First, on an excellent play call, Peus hit Blake Kelley on a wide receiver screen and the 6-5 senior bolted 73 yards for the touchdown.

Linebacker Junior Garcia then recovered a fumble and the Dons capitalized with a 22-yard field goal by Jellison.

Rio Mesa cut the lead to 24-21 on a 47-yard pass from Maciel to Houston with 3:34 left in the second quarter.

The Dons came back with Peus throwing a screen pass to  Ruben Velez and Velez taking it 29 yards for a touchdown and a 31-21 lead.

Rio Mesa’s Sanchez kicked a 31-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to make it 31-24.

Bittner said Santa Barbara surprised him.

“They’re a pretty good football team. That’s a better football team than I gave them credit for,” he said. “(The game) was one of those deals where it was going to come down to whoever had the ball last.”