SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Football returned to La Playa Stadium in dramatic fashion Saturday afternoon, as SBCC's Jorge Figueroa put through the game-winning field goal with four seconds left to give the Vaqueros a 23-21 win over West LA.
Santa Barbara (1-1) earned its first win of the season thanks to more clutch play down the stretch from quarterback Ben Partee, who showed great poise after taking over with just 2:14 remaining and his team down one. He completed his first two passes on the drive for 31 total yards before busting out for a bruising 19-yard scamper down to the Wildcats' three-yard line.
"Our offensive line did a great job during that drive, giving Ben some time to sit in the pocket, let things develop, and he threw some good balls," said head coach Craig Moropoulos. "Great field, great crowd, great atmosphere like it always is at that stadium, and a good competitive game."
The former San Marcos High School star's longest run of the day came in the final minute to setup a chipshot from 21 yards out. That capped off quite the impressive day for Figueroa, who was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals – including one from 45-yards out – and 2-of-2 on extra points.
"That's a good way to start," Moropoulos said of his kicker's performance. "In the past, we've had some games where we've not converted on those opportunities, and he did today. He's a good player, good kid, and I'm happy for him and the team. It was just really rewarding."
Partee finished 21-of-38 for 229 yards and a touchdown through the air. He also ran for 39 yards on nine attempts.
In the early-going, it was West LA (0-2) that was threatening, making it down to the Santa Barbara 5-yard line on its second drive of the day. However, defensive back Jack Kilpatrick jumped his man's route perfectly on second-and-goal, picking off Wildcat quarterback Casell Wiggins at the four to end the drive.
On West LA's next possession, Wiggins connected with wide receiver Darcell Benjamin on a 59-yard bomb to make it 7-0 less than 10 minutes into the game.
The Vaqueros answered with a heavy rushing attack, pounding away with 10 runs on 12 plays. Runningback Mekhi Norfleet eventually took it in from six yards out to tie things up heading into the second period. Santa Barbara would score again on its next drive via a 32-yard field goal from Figueroa to go up 10-7.
SBCC added to its lead on the opening possession of the second half. Penalties flew all over the place, killing the drive and backing the Vaqueros up to the West LA 28. However, with the play clock running down, Figueroa calmly booted it from 45-yards out, seeing it crawl just over the crossbar to put his team up 13-7. It was the Vaqueros' longest made field goal in over seven years.
Soon after, Partee put together one of his most efficient drives of the day, going a perfect 3-for-3 and culminating with an 11-yard touchdown to wide receiver Cyrus Wallace with 14:00 left in the fourth. Wallace had three receptions on the day for 33 yards.
The Wildcats wouldn't go away just yet. Wiggins found receiver Toddy Ary for a 40-yard score with 10:22 to go. Their next drive would see them go 97 yards in 11 plays, capped off by a three-yard Charles Mincy touchdown run to put them up 21-20 with just 2:21 left on the clock.
That proved to be more than enough time for the Vaqueros to put together a winning drive, especially after a huge 31-yard kick return from Jamari Cannon to set them up at their own 44.
On back-to-back passes, Partee found fellow San Marcos graduate Joshua Brown for 20 yards and wideout Jerry Martin for 11, quickly moving SBCC within two yards of the red zone. The Vaqueros managed the clock with textbook precision over the final minute, leaving no time for West LA to do anything with the ball following Figueroa's third field goal of the day.
"Josh Brown made a great catch, and Marcus Bellon did some great things," Moropoulos said. "But I was proud of Ben. He had some struggles earlier, but came up big when we needed it."
Norfleet finished with 63 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, his longest going for 24. Bellon led all Vaqueros with seven catches for 82 yards (11.7 Y/rec).
On the defensive end, defensive lineman Koby Sarna and linebacker Tyler Haughney recorded one sack apiece. Sarna and defensive back Zaiden Wright both forced fumbles, one of which was recovered by SBCC. Linebacker Zach Schipper led the team with seven tackles.
"Just the wherewithal that our defense has. They keep fighting, no matter how tough it gets," said Moropoulos. "We had a couple offsides that prolonged drives, but I was really proud of them for the perseverance that they've shown. They get after it, they played tough on all four downs. Can't say enough about their effort."
Next Saturday, Sept. 18, the Vaqueros will host Orange Coast at 6:00 p.m. in the last of a two-game home stand.