|Rio Mesa cornerback Donte Martin (No. 9) wrestles down a Santa Barbara wide receiver while safety J.P. Arbon watches on during the Spartans' 47-45 shootout victory at Peabody Stadium (photo by Lorenzo Reyna).|
Rio Mesa High – once down by 10 points late in the second quarter – turned to its two national recruits at wide receiver and a power running game to rally past Santa Barbara High 47-45 on Sept. 18 at Peabody Stadium.
Down 31-21, Rio Mesa (3-1) not only ended the first half on a 31-yard field goal, the Spartans installed their momentum on a fluky offensive fumble. Josiah King lost control of the ball but fellow backfield mate Joe Diaz swooped up the pigskin and rumbled 60 yards for the touchdown, tying the game at 31.
From there, Stevie Houston and Jonathan Lenard provided the big receptions while King wore down the Santa Barbara trenches. Lenard – who committed to San Diego State in July 2015 – took a swing pass and accelerated his way to a 36-yard scoring scamper to make it 37-31. Houston, who pledged to Washington State in June 2015, kept Rio Mesa’s next drive alive by becoming a possession target on third down situations. King concluded that offensive march by gashing up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown, making it 44-31.
“It was a very intense game,” Houston said. “Our offensive line, our offensive coordinators and our coach all came together and gelled as one. We also have a lot of leaders on this team. We came out here and set the example.”
Santa Barbara wouldn’t go down without a fight. The Dons turned to the right arm of quarterback Brent Peus to stay in the game. Peus found Sean Babcock on a short screen that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown, cutting the Spartan lead to 44-37.
A botched onside kick, though, gave Rio Mesa excellent field possession and led to a 28-yard field goal.
Peus and the Dons would then move quickly down the field thanks to two personal foul calls on Rio Mesa. The drive ended when Peus rifled a pass down the middle to a wide open Babcock for a 5-yard score. Peus then connected with Chris Jellison on the 2-point try, making it 47-45.
The Dons’ onside kick attempt – after taking nearly three bounces - was recovered by Rio Mesa and helped seal the Spartans’ third consecutive win.
“We came out and never quit. That’s what special about Rio Mesa,” Lenard said.
The receiver/safety added that his team has become the opposite of the one that lost 51-17 to Camarillo to start the season.
“We’re a lot different. Losing to them showed us that we weren’t who we thought we were during the summer,” Lenard said. “That was kind of a wakeup call and our coach told us that we need to get better and play as one, not as individuals.”