Vaqueros’ offense struggles in 12-6 loss

The top two defenses in the American Pacific League squared off on Saturday night in Woodland Hills, so it figured that points would be hard to come by.

L.A. Pierce built a 12-0 first-quarter lead at Shepard Stadium and then held off SBCC for a 12-6 football victory. The first-place Brahmas improved to 5-2 and 4-0 in conference while the Vaqueros fell to 3-4 and 2-2.

The six points were the lowest total by SBCC in 29 games, dating back to the last game of the 2012 campaign.

Pierce’s defense was ranked No. 6 in the state, allowing 17.3 points and 325 yards. The Vaqueros were ranked in the top 15, giving up 24 points and 321 yards.

The Vaqueros got off to a rocky start with a bad punt snap on their first possession on fourth-and-11 from their 34. Punter Joel Whitford raced back and fell on the ball at the Brahma 4. On first down, Calvin Howard ran left for a TD and a quick 6-0 lead just 99 seconds into the game. The PAT kick was no good and Pierce led 6-0.

The Brahmas extended the margin to 12-0 near the end of the first quarter with a five-play, 54-yard drive. Howard covered the last 25 yards on a run up the right sideline. Edward Avila’s PAT kick bounced off the back of his offensive line.

The Vaqueros’ last three losses have come by 7, 1 and 6 points.

“This was very similar to the first game of the season (when the Vaqueros fumbled the opening kickoff),” said coach Craig Moropoulos. “You can’t have errors like that in the special teams, it sets a bad tone for the game. To our guys credit, the defense rose up at the end of the second quarter and put us in some good situations.”

The Vaqueros stopped Pierce on a fourth-and-1 at the 25-yard line with 8:50 to go in the second quarter. Raymond Santovena Fathauer and Clayton Hanly stuffing running back Elijah Staton for a 1-yard loss. The Vaqueros held the Brahmas to a pair of three-and-outs on their next two possessions.

Thomas Hopp, a 6-2 freshman linebacker from Anchorage, Alaska, led the defense with a season-high 14 tackles and a pass breakup.

SBCC’s offense was limited to four first downs and 55 total yards in the first half while Pierce had seven first downs and 172 yards. For the game, the Vaqueros were 1-13 on third-down conversions and 0-4 on fourth-down tries, including the bad snap and a fake punt try in the third quarter.

Pierce drove to the SBCC 11 early in the third quarter and tried a fake field goal. The holder tossed the ball to the kicker, Tanner Kanteman, but he had to get to the end zone and was stopped at the 4 by Diante Lewis-Jolley, Lordes Jones and a host of defenders.

The Vaqueros went three-and-out but Keotae Stenhouse fumbled a fair catch at his own 45 and Santa Barbara’s Deshawn Phelps recovered. On second-and-16, quarterback Brandon Edwards threw a bomb to Jason-Matthew Sharsh.

Sharsh made a nice catch at the 12 and faked out two defenders to complete the 51-yard TD pass. Blake Levin was wide right on the PAT kick and the Vaqueros trailed 12-6 with 8:05 to go in the third period.

“We get a touchdown and then we miss another extra point,” said Moropoulos. “That’s an example of things you just can’t do and win a game.”

Edwards took a hard hit on the scoring play and left with a shoulder injury. He completed 7-of-14 passes for 103 yards.

Alexander Cuevas went the rest of the way at QB, completing 5-of-11 for 72 yards. He hooked up with Calvin Crockett on a 34-yard pass that moved the ball to the Brahma 25 with less than five minutes to play. On the next play, a pass by Cuevas was tipped by receiver Osha Washington and intercepted by Eric Waters.

“That tipped pass was typical of the day, we’re not playing precise football right now,” said Moropoulos. “We lost one of our guards this week and we got whipped up front tonight. When you can’t run the ball, you get forced into throwing and that gets you out of rhythm.”

The Vaqueros were held to 49 rushing yards on 31 attempts.

Santa Barbara will play its next two at home – Halloween Saturday vs. Antelope Valley and Nov. 7 vs. first-place Santa Monica with both starting at 1 p.m.