Ball bounces Buena’s way; Dons suffer a 28-21 defeat

Chris “Tick” Jellison scored all three touchdowns and kicked three PATS for Santa Barbara High. (Photos by Paul Wellman, Santa Barbara Independent)

A chance to clinch a CIF playoff spot bounced away from the Santa Barbara High football team Friday night.

Buena’s Juan Gaytan picked up a Santa Barbara fumble and returned it to the 2-yard line and then scored on a first-down run to break a 14-14 tie and spark the Bulldogs to a 28-21 Channel League victory on Homecoming Night at Peabody Stadium.

The loss drops Santa Barbara to 1-2 in league play and 5-4 overall. Buena improves to 2-0 and 6-2.

A win by the Dons would have put them in the driver’s seat for second place and an automatic playoff berth. Now they have to win the Big Game against San Marcos in two weeks and hope they’ll be awarded an at-large berth.

The fumble was a huge turning point in the game. Santa Barbara had just intercepted a pass from Buena quarterback Martin Mijares on a nice piece of defense. Mason Bigelow tipped the ball and Jeremiah Nicholson caught it for the Dons at the Bulldogs’ 3.

Three runs by Sean Babock moved the ball to the 25 and quarterback Brent Peus hit Blake Kelley on a 7-yard completion for a first down at the 32. On the next play, Peus ran a bootleg around the left end. As he turned up field, he was hit into his blocker, wide receiver Kelley, and the ball fell to the ground. Gaytan picked it up and ran it down to the 2.

“Lucky for us the ball bounced our way,” Buena coach Tim Gutierrez said. “I think the turning point of the game was that one turnover. That was costly for them and, thank God, the ball bounced our way.”

Santa Barbara coach JT Stone said the “game came down to key moments. The fumble, they were able to get points off of that.

“Again, we had opportunities to win the football game,” Stone added. “I can’t blame our kids. Our kids fought hard. I have asked them to give everything they have and I felt like they did tonight in one of those close games. (Buena) just made a few more plays than we did tonight.”

Tick Jellison made several big plays for Santa Barbara. He scored all the team’s points, catching three touchdown passes and kicking three PATs. Kicker Alea Hyatt was not with the team as she had a U.S. national soccer team commitment.

“We did everything we could in our power,” said Jellison, who caught nine passes for 175 yards. “We made some mistakes that we shouldn’t have and it cost us big time.”

The Dons missed a scoring opportunity early in the game. They drove to the Buena 1, but were knocked back on three straight plays, leaving them with a 4th and goal at the 11. Jellison tried a 27-yard field goal and missed it.

Santa Barbara linebacker Junior Garcia intercepts a pass intended for Buena's Mason Beling.

Santa Barbara linebacker Junior Garcia intercepts a pass intended for Buena’s Mason Beling late in the first half. (Paul Wellman photo)

Buena capitalized and scored on its next possession. Mijares hit Mason King in the left flat and he bolted 23 yards for the first score of the game at 11:36 of the second quarter.

Santa Barbara tied the score on a 21-yard pass from Peus to Jellison at the 3:58 mark.

Buena responded with Mijares coming up with big plays after a long kickoff return by Josh Davila. Mijares completed an 18-yard pass to Andrew Bergum on third and 5. Gaytan ran 14 yards down to the 3 and finished the drive with a 3-yard scoring run.

“He’s a workhorse. He just comes to work every day and grinds and grinds and grinds. It’s just great to see him rewarded with a game like this tonight,” said Gutierrez of Gaytan, who ran for 77 yards on 22 carries.

Santa Barbara got the ball back with 1:35 left and Peus went right to work, hitting Babock for a 40-yard pass play. One play later, he found Jellison over the middle for a 19-yard score, tying the game at 14-14.

After a slow start, Peus completed 19 of 32 passes for 340 yards.

Junior Garcia intercepted a Mijares pass and the Dons ran out the clock to end the first half.

Things looked bright for Santa Barbara at the start of the second half. The defense stopped Buena on its first possession and the offense was moving the ball. Then came the fumble.

Buena scored again early in the fourth quarter on a 7-yard pass from Mijares to Mason Beling to go up 28-14.

Santa Barbara was stopped on fourth down on its next possession but got the ball back. This time, Peus completed two passes to Mason Bigelow and two to Jellison, the last one a 20-yard strike over the middle for a touchdown to make a 28-21 game with 3:59 left.

The Dons’ defense stopped Buena a yard short on third and 2, but they jumped offsides on fourth down. That allowed the Bulldogs to run out the clock.

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