Photo Credit: Sabas Melger/ Anthony Estrada picks up yardage

Take the sport of football away from eager and talented Coast Union student athletes for a full year – due to the pandemic – and there emerges a powerful passion for a return to competitive gridiron action.  That passion played out dramatically in Santa Barbara on Friday, October 1, as the Broncos – in a thrilling, back and forth game – held on to defeat the Laguna Blanca Owls, 50-42, in a non-league contest.

     “The boys kept their composure all night long even when things got tough.  Winning a close game like that will help us in the playoffs,”  Offensive Coordinator Charlie Casale explained in an email.  Coast Union had the lead, 28-26, entering half time, but the Owls came quickly back, and the Broncos found themselves playing catchup.  

     While fighting to regain the lead in the second half, senior quarterback Emi Pena – also a strong defensive player who battled leg cramps during the game – pressured the Owl’s quarterback.  That pressure caused the quarterback to fumble in the Owls’ endzone. Senior Miguel Ramirez alertly recovered that fumble and scored a Bronco touchdown.

      One way to judge the value of a football team is by its depth.  Hence, when Coast Union starting players senior Anthony Estrada and junior Cesar Gomez were injured, freshmen stepped in and performed well.  One of those freshmen was Jonathan Ramirez, Pena’s younger cousin, who made strategic plays down the stretch for Coast Union.

     The Owls were driving successfully after Coast had taken the lead.  Indeed, Coast gave up a big play and Laguna Blanca – with no time-outs left – was on the Broncos nine-yard line with a first down.  But Jonathan Ramirez rose to the occasion by sacking their quarterback twice.  His efforts were boosted, according to Head Coach Andrew Crosby, when Broncos on Coast’s sideline “exploded, and got very loud.”  That racket “caused confusion on the field for the Owls,” Crosby explained, because Laguna Blanca’s coach relays plays to his team by shouting them from the sidelines.  Thanks to the cacophony and Jonathan Ramirez’ sacks, the Broncos took over and had an opportunity to take the lead.

     With the score still knotted at 42-42, Pena tossed a pass to Caiden Kennedy that was tipped; but ultimately Kennedy watchfully caught the ball for a score.  After the two-point conversion, Coast led 50-42.  With the clock winding down, the Owls were driving again and had reached Coast’s 35-yard line, hoping for a score and a two-point conversion that would potentially tie the game.  The Owls’ quarterback went back to pass on fourth down with no time outs.  The clock struck zero immediately after the Owl’s quarterback took the snap – so this was the final desperate play for Laguna Blanca.  He was pressured again by freshman Ramirez, who rushed and harassed the signal caller with his hands held high in the air.  The quarterback had to get rid of the ball and lofted a floater off his back foot, which Pena snatched out of the air for an interception that ended the game.

     Casale noted that credit should go to Bronco cornerback Julio Gomez who had tight coverage of the Owls’ favorite receiver on that final play.  “I made the interception because I knew they had to throw it deep; it was fourth down and 13 yards for a first down,” Pena recalled in an email interview.  “Instead of rushing the quarterback, I dropped back deep…the rush on the quarterback was too much for him, and it was a simple read to know where he was going to throw it.”  “I just went out and made the catch,” Pena explained.

     “This game ranks as one of the top games I’ve ever played,” Pena continued; his team is 4-1 (1-0 in the Coast Valley League). “My favorite thing is that my guys were able to respond to adversity.”  When the two aforementioned Broncos were injured, “the next guys stepped up,” including Pena’s cousin Jonathan Ramirez, which “was great to see a freshman have such an impact.”

The next Coast Valley League game is against Maricopa at home on Thursday, October 14, at 4:00 p.m.  Following that game, Coast plays traditional rival Valley Christian Academy on Saturday, October 23, at 7:00 p.m.

Photo credit: Sabas Melger
Emi Pena gets off a pass on the run