The Santa Barbara defense came up big in the second half. | Credit: Roark Norton

It didn’t take long for Santa Barbara’s offense to get going in the Dons’ season opener at Thousand Oaks Friday night. In the very first possession of the game, Santa Barbara marched 69 yards down the field and took an early lead on a methodical 12-play drive led by the senior duo of quarterback Abel Renteria and running back Koa Herrera.

After handing off the ball to Herrera six times on that first drive and completing two big passes to overcome an early holding penalty, Renteria bullied his way into the end zone on a one-yard run and a two-point conversion to give Santa Barbara an 8-0 lead.

Santa Barbara’s new head coach Nate Mendoza, who made his return to coaching after previously leading Dos Pueblos to a CIF Championship game in 2017, said when he took the position he wanted to make sure that the Dons were prepared to play a physical brand of football.

“We’ve been talking about being physical all off- season, lifting weights and doing a lot of conditioning, so I thought that was a good way to kick off the year and show that we can run the ball,” Mendoza said.

Thousand Oaks, which finished last year’s regular season undefeated at 10-0, responded right away with an explosive 45-yard run by junior running back Brolin Harrah deep into Santa Barbara territory, followed by a one-yard touchdown by Harrah to bring the Lancers within one point, 8-7.

But Santa Barbara’s offense was just getting warmed up, and on the very next offensive play Renteria dropped back and threw a bomb halfway down the field, hitting junior Tomas Gil in stride for an 86-yard touchdown to extend the Dons’ lead, 15-7. 

After forcing a shallow punt and getting the ball on the Lancers’ 32 yard line, Santa Barbara scored just two plays later when Renteria dropped a 28-yard jump ball to senior Winston Bartley, who ripped the ball from the defender’s hands to give the Dons a 22-7 lead going into the second quarter.

Both teams traded possessions in the second quarter, and the Lancers began to crawl back into the game after forcing two straight Santa Barbara punts and taking the ball back just before the end of the half. With less than a minute left before halftime, Thousand Oaks’ sophomore quarterback Jackson Taylor threw a deep shot of his own to senior wide receiver Andrew Lacombe, who juggled the catch before jogging into the end zone untouched to bring the score to 22-14 at the half.

Thousand Oaks carried that momentum into the third quarter, scoring on the first drive of the second half with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to senior wide receiver Silas Kemp to bring the game back within one point, 22-21.

The Dons defense would lock down for the remainder of the game, gaining momentum with a big sack that backed the Lancers up against their own goal line and forcing the Thousand Oaks punter to kick from his own endzone.

With good field position once again, the Dons went right back to the run game, handing the ball off to Herrera for a 10-yard run before junior Bode Fauskee sealed the deal with a 12-yard touchdown run to extend the lead, 29-21, with 4:31 left in the third quarter.

All game long, the Dons excelled with a balanced offense, relying on a consistent diet of run plays to keep the Thousand Oaks defense honest and open up the secondary for the speedy roster of receivers. At least six Santa Barbara players carried the ball, with Herrera leading the pack with 123 yards on 25 carries.

Renteria also spread the wealth with completions to six different receivers. The third-year starter finished with over 250 yards of total offense, two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.

On the defensive side, junior Dean Wilson led the way with an interception and a sack, while the rest of the Dons’ defense was able to corral the highly-touted Lancers quarterback, Taylor, for much of the game. In the fourth quarter, Santa Barbara’s defense held Thousand Oaks scoreless.

Cornerback Jordan Mitchum is a key piece on defense for Santa Barbara.

After forcing a turnover on downs on what turned out to be the Lancers’ last possession of the game, The Dons took the ball back with 6:23 left, then slowly marched down the field with another 12-play run-heavy drive with Herrera and Renteria moving the chains to chew the rest of the clock.

Coach Mendoza said he is hoping to carry the momentum of the first-week win into the Dons’ home opener next week against Valencia, and that it “feels great” to be back on the sidelines.  

“It feels like I’m supposed to be out here, just really lucky to be able to coach with these players and coaches — we’ve got a great group here,” Mendoza said. “I’m proud of the boys, it’s not really about me, just happy for the players, the staff, and the fans that made the trip. It was a great game”

Santa Barbara will play Valencia at Peabody Stadium next Friday, August 25 at 7 p.m.


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