For San Marcos High, a tie was like kissing your placekicker.
Sarah Harbison kicked the extra point that tied the Royals with the Santa Barbara Dons, 10-10, in the Alumni Big Game, and that was the final score after 60 minutes of fiercely played football on a sweltering Saturday afternoon.
A crowd of 7,000 that jammed Peabody Stadium applauded both teams when it was over. A few players wanted to press the issue in overtime, but most of them were satisfied with the result after they had already played the equivalent of five high school quarters (15-minute periods instead of 12).
Besides raising an estimated $40,000 for the schools’ football programs, this game made some history. There never had been a stalemate in 50 years of Big Games between the crosstown rivals. And never had a woman figured in the outcome.
“I was nervous thinking about it last night,” said Harbison. “I knew I would be trying our first point-after touchdown.” She did not know it would become the crucial last point of the game. She trotted out onto the field after Jeremy Burrey’s touchdown with 8:56 remaining trimmed Santa Barbara’s lead to 10-9. Burrey slanted into the end zone and caught an 18-yard pass from David Lopez on a fourth-down play.
On the PAT attempt, holder Larry Flores had to pull a low center-snap off the ground. Harbison hesitated and then hit the ball with just enough force to lift it over the crossbar. It was not the prettiest kick ever, but she said, “It looks good in the scorebook.”
Harbison is two-for-two in her career. She made her only PAT attempt as a member of the San Marcos varsity in 1999. She was an All-CIF water polo player for the Royals and is now a biology teacher at the school. “A lot of my students came out to watch the game,” she said.
Santa Barbara mounted two serious threats to retake the lead. The first one was extinguished when San Marcos lineman Michael Dean dumped Khalid Hurst for a five-yard loss on fourth-and-3 at the Royals’ 18. The Dons struck back on a 53-yard pass from Poncho Renteria to David Garcia that put the ball on the 10 with 45 seconds remaining. After three incomplete passes, George Rios attempted a game-winning 27-yard field goal that was high and deep … and wide right.
The Royals’ defense was tough in the red zone. Cornerback Norm Kittle broke up several plays with big-time hits. The Dons came up empty after making first-and-goal at the four in the opening period.
San Marcos went ahead 3-0 in the second quarter on a 30-yard field goal by Esteban Plascencia. The Dons took a 7-3 halftime lead when quarterback Preston Maloney and Garcia, a pair of 2002 classmates, connected on three straight passes, the last good for a six-yard touchdown. Rios’s 32-yard field goal early in the final quarter made it 10-3 before Lopez engineered the Royals’ touchdown drive.
Santa Barbara’s Randall Cunningham (’81) was the most popular player in the stadium, but the 47-year-old quarterback, a four-time All-Pro, did not see action. His No. 12 jersey was retired in a halftime ceremony, as well as the No. 34 of his older brother Sam Cunningham (’69). They were the first Dons football players to have their numbers retired. Sam was represented at the ceremony by another brother, A.C. Cunningham, along with legendary Dons coach Sam Cathcart.
Randall Cunningham was reunited with his Santa Barbara coach, Mike Moropoulos. “The first thing Randall said to me was, ‘You never let me run,’” Moropoulos said. “I told him it would be the same if he played for me today. You only get one Randall Cunningham in your lifetime, and you don’t want people to get free shots at him.”
Cunningham was the NFL’s all-time rushing leader at the quarterback position when he retired. He is an ordained minister and has founded a church in Las Vegas. “The team let me say a prayer in the locker room,” he said.
But it was obvious God did not take sides in the Alumni Big Game.