On a journey that began with great promise, the 2019 Santa Barbara High football team is on the verge of cementing itself among the all-time greats in school history by claiming a CIF Southern Section Championship on Saturday night.
In the distant past, Santa Barbara High was home to one of the top football programs in Southern California, but a 30-year drought between playoff victories muted this historical success. After several years of program building, head coach J.T. Stone has awakened the echoes of past championships.
“These kids just did everything we asked them to do,” Stone said. “There’s nothing greater than when kids believe they can do something and they get it done.”
Standing in the way is a battle-tested Sunny Hills team out of Fullerton. The 11-2 Lancers reached the championship game by virtue of a 31-27 victory over Trabuco Hills in the semis. They too are coming off of a playoff drought, not having won since 1996. But the Lancers have a knack for coming out on top in close games, including a 21-14 victory over Tustin in their playoff opener.
Sunny Hills’ dominant rushing attack is led by Jun Ahn, who is approaching 1,700 yards on 6.3 yards per carry this season. Brandon Roberts is a dual threat as runner/receiver, averaging 11.1 yards per carry. Quarterback Luke Duxbury thrives off the attention defenses must give to the running game, often aiming for Wilson Cal, who has racked up 62 receptions for 927 yards and five touchdowns. An X-factor could be Vince Silva, who exploded with four catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns against Trabuco Hills.
For Santa Barbara (11-2), everything begins with Wisconsin-commit Deacon Hill at quarterback. He’s been red-hot in the playoffs with 12 touchdown passes in three games. “When the game is on the line, I want to keep the ball in my hands,” Hill said. “I think that I can handle the ball well and get those solid yards that we need.”
His receiving core of Dakota Hill, Jake Knecht, Jackson Gonzales, and Moki Nacario is proving problematic for opposing secondaries throughout the playoffs. (Gonzales was injured against Palmdale, and his status for Saturday is unknown.)
“People underestimate my kids,” Stone said. “They just became masters of their craft. The confidence that my guys have developed over the past month — it’s unreal.”
The running back combination of Ty Montgomery and Justin Perez have become a foundational aspect of the offense over the second half of the season. Their opening 13-play, 85-yard drive against Palmdale showcased these two, ending with an 8-yard touchdown run by Montgomery.
Defensively, the d-line combo of Noach Wood and Joshua Rosales is proving disruptive, as is the coaching of defensive coordinator Ralph Molina, a master of changing up looks to confuse opposing offenses.
The title game appearance will be the first for Santa Barbara since they were co-champions with Muir of Pasadena in 1989.
GAUCHO SOCCER ON TO SWEET 16: The trials and tribulations of the season have molded the UCSB men’s soccer team into a formidable force as evidenced by a 4-0 rout of Saint Mary’s in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Injuries forced the Gauchos to shuffle their lineup throughout the season, prompting UCSB to master the ability to adjust to exploit individual opponents.
Noah Billingsley put away his first goal of the season on a header from close range to open the scoring in the 32nd minute. Will Baynham increased the lead to 2-0 early in the second half, and Rodney Michael broke open the match with two late goals.
The win over Saint Mary’s was the largest upset by seed in the second round across the entire tournament. UCSB will travel to play at the fifth-seeded Indiana Hoosiers in the third round on Sunday, December 1, at 9 p.m. PST. The Hoosiers are undefeated in their last 38 home games.
4•1•1 | CIF Southern Section Division 8 Football Championship. Santa Barbara Golden Tornado (11-2) vs. Sunny Hills Lancers (11-2) Saturday, November 30, 7 p.m. San Marcos High Warkentin Stadium. Tickets: $12, students with ID $5, under 4 free.