Friday Night Lights: For Dons, DP, title run begins in Ventura

They don’t give a trophy or letterman jacket patches for having the best record in non-league games. Those are the rewards for winning a league championship.

The battle for the Channel League football title begins Friday night in Ventura as Santa Barbara High visits two-time defending champion Ventura High, and Dos Pueblos plays at Buena.

This year’s race appears wide open. Santa Barbara posted the best record of the five league teams during the non-league schedule, going 4-2; Buena went 3-2, Ventura and Dos Pueblos 2-4 and San Marcos 1-5.

Santa Barbara coach JT Stone said at the beginning of the season that the title goes through Ventura. The Cougars’ record is a little deceiving; three of their losses have come against high-powered programs, Camarillo (5-0, ranked No. 1 in the CIF Northern Division), Thousand Oaks (5-0, No. 2 in the Northern Division) and Hart (4-1).

Ventura has an experienced quarterback in senior Tyler Smith (68 of 114 passes for 716 yards, 2 touchdowns) and a powerful running back in junior Broc Mortensen (101 carries for 617 yards, 5 TDs). Defensively, the Cougars are always physical and aggressive.

They’ll be facing a Santa Barbara offense that’s been lighting up the scoreboard every Friday night. Behind senior quarterback Brent Peus, the Dons have put up 258 points in six games for a 43.0 average. The offense received a huge boost last weekend when Alea Hyatt of the girls soccer team joined the squad and kicked two field goals and three extra points in a 27-20 comeback win over Pacifica.

The Pacifica game also marked a turning point for the Dons’ defense. They allowed only a field goal in the second half.

Stone said the Dons have been looking forward to this game since last season. Ventura rolled to a 44-7 win at Peabody Stadium en route to the league title and CIF Western Division championship game.

It will be an emotional night all around at Larrabee Stadium. Not only is it the league opener but Ventura also is celebrating Homecoming.

Across town at Buena, Dos Pueblos will be looking to ride the momentum of its 53-28 win over Carpinteria into the league opener.

Buena has been a nemesis for the Chargers as it has won the last two meetings. The Bulldogs’ 14-7 win in 2013 knocked DP out of the CIF playoffs. DP hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2012.

Buena is led by senior quarterback Martin Mijares. He was clutch last week, throwing a late TD pass to Mason Beiling to beat Rio Mesa, 31-25. Every game for the Bulldogs has been decided by a touchdown or less.

After a brutal non-league schedule that included losses against CIF-ranked teams Santa Ynez, Newbury Park and Lompoc, the Chargers put together a solid performance in the win over Carpinteria.

“We needed that momentum going into league,” DP coach Nate Mendoza said after the game.

The offensive line dominated, allowing senior running back Manny Nwosu to have a breakout game of 218 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Quarterback Kellen Roberts has been a steady performer operating the no-huddle offense.

Linebacker Chris Noggle leads a defense that’s been revamped after season-ending injuries to Austen Pearce and Josh Flora.

The picks: Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos

In other action Friday, Bishop Diego travels to Los Angeles to face View Park of the L.A. City Section, and Carpinteria is home to Santa Paula.  San Marcos has a bye. On Saturday, Cate hosts Thacher in a Condor League battle of top-5 teams in 8-man football. Thacher is ranked third and the Rams are No. 4.

Bishop Diego (5-0) at View Park (2-3), at Jackie Robinson Stadium, 7 p.m. — Bishop running back Mike Soracco returns to his L.A. City Section roots in this one. The transfer from Eagle Rock High is coming off his best offensive performance, 122 yards rushing and three touchdowns. The Cardinals have too many weapons for View Park, which is coming off a 14-10 win over L.A. Locke. The pick: Bishop Diego.

Santa Paula (3-3) at Carpinteria (0-5), 7:30 p.m. — Carpinteria will have its hands full against a run-dominated Santa Paula attack. Junior Zackery Marquez is already approaching 1,000 yards; he has 943 on 142 carries and 12 touchdowns. Junior Anthony Morales has rushed for 430 yards on 58 carries. The Warriors are coming off their biggest offensive output of the season, scoring 28 points against Dos Pueblos. But they gave up 53 points and 218 yards rushing to Manny Nwosu. The pick: Santa Paula.