Carolina Esparza scored two touchdowns for Santa Barbara. | Credit: Victor Bryant

The first ever girls’ flag football matchup between Santa Barbara High and San Marcos came down to the final play.

San Marcos had one untimed down from the 18-yard line. Peyton Sterling caught the ball near the line of scrimmage and charged up field, but Dayzia Mendoza grabbed her flag near the eight-yard line to secure the victory for Dons.

“I just wanted to win this historic game,” said Mendoza, who is also Santa Barbara’s quarterback.

The significance of the game between the two Santa Barbara public schools was not lost on the players or the coaches. The “New Big Game” as Santa Barbara assistant coach Carlina Gonzalez coined it, was hotly contested from start to finish.

“This rivalry for the boys’ is big and these girls took it seriously this week during practice,” said Santa Barbara coach Gabe Renteria. “They dealt with adversity during the game and that’s what I told them, they’re going to deal with ups and downs in the game. It’s a life lesson because they’re going to grow up and have adversity throughout their lives.”

On the first play of the game, Carolina Esparza intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown to give Santa Barbara an early 7-0 lead.

The Dons tacked on another touchdown on a short pass from Mendoza to Esparza midway through the first half to go ahead 14-0. 

Later in the first half, Jazz Gordon intercepted a pass to thwart a San Marcos drive and preserve the Santa Barbara lead.

Dayzia Mendoza connects with Jazz Gordon.

However, San Marcos responded with a six-yard touchdown run by Sperling, cutting its deficit to 14-6 after a failed extra point. 

The Royals grabbed the momentum with a 70-yard touchdown pass from Mianna Sturm to Rio Chesluck on the final play of the first half, cutting the deficit to 14-12.

The second half was a defensive slugfest. San Marcos took its first lead of the game with 5:45 remaining when Sturm connected with Checluck again, this time on a four-yard touchdown pass that put the Royal ahead 18-14.

Santa Barbara came through with a clutch drive capped off by a six-yard pass from Mendoza to Ale Alcocer Vasquez to take a 20-18 lead with 1:32 remaining.

“{San Marcos} punched us in the mouth going into the second half,” Renteria said. “We made some adjustments, took what the defense gave us with some shots here and there. Our quarterback was very poised. She has a super high football IQ.”

San Marcos drove down the field and appeared to take the lead on a lateral sperling, who passed to Harlyn Griffin in the end zone with one second remaining, but a double forward pass penalty was called, which set the stage for the final play. 


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