In the 49 years I have reported on Santa Barbara sports, I may never have experienced such a banquet of games as transpired last weekend, when Bishop Diego and Dos Pueblos high schools sought their first CIF football championships, and SBCC’s undefeated women’s soccer team made its first appearance in the state Community College Championships.
Nothing galvanizes a community in quite the same way as seeing one of its prep football teams play for a trophy in the bracing chill of a December night. I was there in 2001, when Dos Pueblos had its only other shot at a CIF title, falling to a strong San Luis Obispo squad in front of a throng at UCSB’s Harder Stadium. I heard the crowds roar at Bishop’s previous bids, a loss to Montclair Prep in 1992 and a heartbreaking overtime defeat against Santa Clara in 2007.
It had been 15 years since a South Coast team brought home a football championship, Carpinteria’s Warriors completing a perfect 14-0 season in 2002. The Santa Barbara Dons (aka the Golden Tornado) claimed their last CIF football crown in 1989.
As somebody who recommends attending a live game rather than passively watching the tube, it is with some chagrin I confess I did not make it to Santa Clarita on Friday night to witness Bishop Diego’s historic 37-6 victory over Golden Valley in the CIF Division 6 final, nor to the Antelope Valley on Saturday night, where Dos Pueblos lost a 26-21 thriller to Quartz Hill in Division 10.
But if there was a game I did not want to miss, it was Friday’s Division 3 final — Rancho Verde at St. Francis High in La Cañada. The Golden Knights of St. Francis made it to their first championship game in 53 years, since they won back-to-back 3-A titles in 1963-64. I played on the ’63 team, which explains my accelerated heartbeat over the last weekend.
Through the magic of electronic communication, I was able to watch every game without leaving home. On Friday night, live video of Bishop Diego’s game was streamed to my laptop. I was able to tape the St. Francis game, which was televised on the Fox Sports West cable channel. Meanwhile, there was another video link on the internet to the semifinal soccer match between SBCC and Folsom Lake in Sacramento.
Coach Tom Crawford has built a consistent winner at Bishop Diego, but the Cardinals had suffered some tough defeats in the playoffs. This time, they were on a mission to raise a CIF trophy. They accomplished it in convincing fashion. Their running game was bottled up early, leaving Isaiah Veal open on a play-action pass for their first score and a 7-0 halftime lead. Their defense was solid throughout, forcing five turnovers and a safety, and lanky senior John Harris ran for three second-half touchdowns.
The St. Francis game brought tears to my eyes. Rancho Verde, with speed to burn, kept scoring on big plays, but each time the gritty Knights came back — they tied the score at 7-7, 14-14, 21-21, 28-28, 35-35 — and after blocking an extra point, they took a 42-41 lead. Their hillside stadium was rocking with nervous excitement as the visiting Mustangs worked the ball downfield in the final minute. On the last play of the game, a cold-blooded sophomore kicked a 37-yard field goal, the longest of his life, for a 44-42 Rancho Verde victory. It was painful for St. Francis’s team, alumni, and fans, but a great game nonetheless.
The women’s soccer game was late, and when I connected on YouTube, Folsom had scored in the second half to take a 1-0 lead over SBCC. A quarter hour from defeat, how would the Vaqueros respond? Just like the no. 2 team in the nation, with a chance to meet no. 1 Fresno City in Sunday’s championship match. Isabella Viana pounded the equalizing goal on a through ball, and in stoppage time — the extra minutes added to account for pauses in the action — Katherine Sheehy deftly struck the ball inside the far-right post from the edge of the penalty area for a 2-1 Santa Barbara victory.
On Saturday evening, between commercials, Clemson and Ohio State were winning big. By far a more interesting game was streaming on my laptop. After falling behind Quartz Hill, 20-7, Dos Pueblos made it 20-14, and late in the final quarter, the Chargers put together a massive scoring drive. On two fourth-and-3 situations, senior running back Rob Alfaro surged to first downs. On one of those runs, he carried a swarm of defenders an extra 15 yards. Alfaro bulled four yards for the TD as lineman Angel Flores knocked Quartz Hill linebacker Matthew Tago, recruited by UCLA, flat on his back. Jesse Molloy’s PAT kick gave DP a 21-20 lead.
The 6′4″, 228-pound Tago, also a quarterback, put the Rebels back ahead, 26-21, by completing a long pass and then running for his fourth TD with 1:33 to play. The Chargers responded with clutch passes from Jake Ramirez to Cyrus Wallace, and they had the ball on the Quartz Hill 6-yard line with time for one last play. Alfaro got the call, plunging into a desperate collision of bodies. He was stopped just three feet short of the goal line, an arm’s length from victory.
I’ll be there Saturday night when Bishop Diego and Quartz Hill clash in a State Regional playoff game, a recently added tier of the postseason.
Just as Dos Pueblos had a 12-game winning streak snapped, the 21-match run by SBCC’s women came to an end Sunday in their ultimate match. Fresno City, another unbeaten team, stopped a penalty kick in the first half, scored twice in the second half, and held off the Vaqueros, 2-1.
“This will be a year I’ll never forget,” said John Sisterson. In his 13th season as the Vaquero women’s coach, they compiled a 21-1-1 record, quite an accomplishment in a sport where bad luck can upset any team. “They could play beautiful soccer,” said Sisterson, a native of England, “and they would battle and give their all for 90 minutes.”