SANTA MARIA — For the ninth consecutive year, a collection of the top senior football players in San Luis Obispo County faced off against their Santa Barbara counterparts in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes All-Star Classic on Saturday, June 1, at Righetti High School. The Santa Barbara team won what was one of the better, if not the best, all-star games 13-10 and extended their win streak over SLO County to five straight after blocking a last-second field goal.
Coming into the week it seemed the SLO County team would have their pick of quarterbacks but that was not the case as Templeton’s Jack Trimble and Morro Bay’s Aiden Moriarty decided not play in the game which might have ended up as a blessing in disguise as the SLO County team had no other option but to run and that is exactly what they did. The team in white ran it early, ran it often, and basically ran it always as they finished the game without a completed pass on only five attempts.
SLO County’s strategy was easy to see and obvious to all in attendance: keep the ball out of the Santa Barbara County offense’s hands, and it almost worked. SLO County received the opening kickoff and went to work running power’s and iso’s out of the I-formation. Arroyo Grande’s James Gilmet started at tailback for SLO and ran hard all evening and never hesitated to slam it up into a hole that might not have been fully formed yet and earned himself the SLO County’s offensive player of the game racking up a game-high 105 rushing yards.
Not only was SLO effective at eating up time while they had the ball, the defense, led by a group of Bearcats in Nathan Garcia, Mark Martinez and Corban Payne (who earned SLO County’s defensive player of the game) played lights out forcing the SB team to go three-and-out in each of their first three possessions. In fact, the SB County team only ran three offensive plays in the first quarter of the game and only 13 total in the first half.
Turnovers and special teams are nearly always the determining factor in a close game between two good teams and Saturday was no different. While the SLO County team owned the time of possession and did everything they wanted to coming into the game they fumbled three times, losing two of them, and could not execute a field goal snap and hold with the game on the line which is ultimately what led to the loss.
The first turnover was probably the most costly because it came with 2:48 to go in the first half when SLO was already up 10-0 and SB was still without a first down. Gilmet fumbled at midfield giving Santa Barbara a short field with plenty of time on the clock but the defense again held strong forcing the host team into a fourth-and-14. Rather than punting and hoping to gain minimal yardage for the defense, Santa Barbara elected to go for it and not only converted the first down but scored on a 56-yard touchdown pass from St. Joseph's Chase Artopoeus to Santa Ynez’s Jasper Kadlec.
The SLO County all-stars scored their first points of the game on a 33-yard field goal from San Luis Obispo’s John Krill on their third possession and then added their touchdown on the next drive via a Kadin Byrne quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line. Paso Robles’ head football coach J.R. Reynolds called the plays offensively for SLO and had a few old school tricks up his sleeve that helped his offense move the ball. After a heavy dose of smash-mouth football, SLO county sprinkled in just a touch of the veer option which gave Santa Barbara fits in the first half.
After sputtering for all but one play in the second half, the Santa Barbara team played much better offensively in the second the half but could not break through the SLO defense. Santa Barbara found themselves in the red zone three times but could only add six total points, two made field goals and one missed, which left open the door for a game-winning drive from SLO County.
SLO started their final drive with just over 8 minutes on the clock remaining and used every single second. As the game and tension grew tighter, so did the rules and officiating. Both teams were flagged and warned for illegal activity on the final drive.
With just 6 seconds showing on the clock, SLO County had the ball inside the 10-yard line with a chance to win the game. Reynolds decided to take one shot into the endzone before settling for a game-tying field goal and dialed up the fade to his guy, Marshall Wiesner. The Paso Robles utility man had a chance at coming down with the ball but it came out of his hands when he landed on his back in the endzone leaving one second on the clock.
SLO trotted out the field goal team for a new extra-point length attempt but a fumbled snap resulted in a blocked kick and a fifth straight victory for Santa Barbara.