Palmdale – Every week the Santa Barbara High football team finds another gear, and now the “Golden Tornado” will storm its way to the CIF-SS Division 8 championship game after a 37-15 victory over Palmdale on Friday night.
A long trek to Palmdale was followed by a fast start for Santa Barbara High quarterback Deacon Hill and company. The Dons jumped out to a 27-0 halftime lead over the Falcons before cruising to victory in the second half.
The sheer domination was shocking considering the level of competition and left no doubt that the Dons are still improving.
“When we have kids like Deacon at the helm, it makes my job so much easier when you game plan,” said Santa Barbara coach J.T. Stone. “Everything we did tonight just clicked again, and we’re going to the CIF Championship game.”
Santa Barbara received the opening kickoff and proceeded to march 85 yards on 13 plays, culminating in a eight-yard touchdown run by Ty Montgomery with 6:40 remaining in the first quarter.
The Dons converted four third downs on the drive, three of which involved Montgomery touching the ball either by rush or reception.
After a quick Palmdale three-and-out, Santa Barbara received excellent field position at its own 45-yard line. Four plays later, Hill dropped a perfect pass over the top to Jake Knecht, who broke free of his defender in the corner of the end zone, increasing the Santa Barbara lead to 14-0 with 2:59 remaining in the first quarter.
Palmdale, which came into the game with an 11-1 record, struggled to recover from the early deficit.
“A lot of teams definitely underestimate what our offense can be, especially because earlier in the year the defense was kind of carrying us,” Hill said. “Our offense really found its personality … who we are. Teams get overconfident and start pressing our receivers, and then we just run right by them.”
The onslaught continued on the first play of the second quarter when Deacon Hill found Dakota Hill (no relation) behind the defense for a 45-yard touchdown strike that made the score 21-0.
With just over a minute remaining in the first half and Santa Barbara facing 3rd-and-20 at the 46-yard line, Moki Nacario slipped behind the Palmdale defense, and Hill delivered his signature deep ball for a 54-yard touchdown.
“The one thing about football is if you come out and punch somebody in the mouth, they have to react. Either they’re going to play or not, and [Palmdale] chose not to play,” Stone said. “We told them to just keep hitting them, and we did that.”
Lost in all of the offensive fireworks was a dominant defensive performance by Santa Barbara, led by the front seven, which smothered Palmdale’s vaunted rushing attack. Noach Wood and Joshua Rosales controlled the line of scrimmage, and the linebacking core led by John Valencia and Steven Lara cleaned up anything that reached the second level.
“Coming into this week, something we really wanted to do was stop the run,” Rosales said. “We knew all their formations; we really studied film and went over their plays.”
Palmdale received a jolt of energy late in the third quarter from sophomore quarterback Nathaniel Mealancon, who came on in relief of starter Marcus Hearn and ripped off a 77-yard run that set up the Falcons’ first touchdown of the game, which came on a one-yard quarterback sneak on fourth and goal.
The Falcons recovered the ensuing onside kick and scored again less than a minute later on a six-yard touchdown pass from Melancon to Jayden Sheridan, cutting their deficit to 30-15.
However, the Dons inserted the dagger with a 14-yard screen pass from Deacon Hill to Dakota Hill that increased their lead to 37-15.
Hill finished 12-of-18 passing for 195 yards and four touchdowns. He also chipped in 51 yards rushing on nine carries.
Santa Barbara will host Sunny Hills in the CIF-SS Division eight championship game next week. Day/time and location have yet to be determined.