Friday, December 15, 2017     Volume: 18, Issue: 41
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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on December 6th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 40 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 40

Proud Saints: Santa Maria football shines in historic CIF championship game, despite loss to Big Bear

By PETER JOHNSON

No moment better captured the vibe at Santa Maria High School on Dec. 2 than the scene at Ralph Baldiviez Stadium just minutes after the final buzzer of the CIF Southern Section Division 12 Championship football game sounded.


HEARTBREAK
Following a championship loss to Big Bear, the Santa Maria community huddled around the Saints players as coach Dan Ellington addressed the team.
PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON

Heartbreak permeated the air as the Saints were forced to watch Big Bear High School raucously celebrate a 37-23 victory just yards away, on their own field.

But as the despondent players took knees and held back tears, the Santa Maria community members who packed the bleachers all night began pouring onto the field to form a supportive ring around the team and coaches.

The night ended like it began: with the community rallying around a football team that had outperformed its wildest expectations, gained the respect of the entire region, and inspired a city with its heart, grit, and togetherness. So despite coming up short of a title, not one soul wasn’t beaming with pride.

“I love you guys,” Saints coach Dan Ellington told his players in the circle. “I could not be more proud than I am right now. I’m sorry it didn’t turn out the way you wanted, but you’re going to look back at this season 10 years from now and you’re going to say, ‘What a hell of a season we had.’”


ALL EYES ON BLAKE
Santa Maria senior quarterback Blake Truhitte (No. 2) dazzled in the CIF finals like he did all season, running for three touchdowns and accounting for 385 total yards.
PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON

When Ellington finished, each assistant coach stepped forward and similarly spoke to the team from the heart—the place where the Saints’ stubborn play emanated from all night.

Big Bear came into the game on the heels of blowout wins over their previous playoff opponents, led by three explosive runners, quarterback Chase Dowty, and running backs Zach Bernard and Daniel Jett.

At first, it appeared the Bears could coast to another win. Their first possession quickly led to a touchdown after a breakout run by Jett. The Bears’ offensive potency was palpable; the potential for a sudden touchdown was there during each play.

“They presented a challenge for us. One guy misses a tackle, and he’s gone,” Ellington told reporters after the game. “It’s a tough offense to try to defend in a week.”

But Santa Maria refused to be run over.

Senior quarterback Blake Truhitte, who has dazzled with his agility, poise, and leadership all season, countered with an 80-yard touchdown drive of his own. Truhitte connected with senior wide receiver John Ramos for several gritty catches and ran it in himself for the Saints’ first score. Senior running back Bobby Ruiz also broke through the defense for some clutch runs.


HISTORIC GAME
It was an overflow crowd at Ralph Baldiviez Stadium on Dec. 2 for the first-ever CIF Southern Section championship game hosted at Santa Maria High School.
PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON

For every positive gain made by the Saints, the overflow crowd at Ralph Baldiviez Stadium erupted. The stands were so packed that fans lined up behind the fence around the field for a “standing room only” viewing experience.

The Santa Maria team also had the support of dozens of former Saints football players who watched proudly from the sidelines donning old letterman jackets. Graduates from as early as the 1970s cheered on the 2017 Saints, marveling at the historic success of a program that had fallen on hard times before its recent revival led by Ellington.

Despite the Saints’ best efforts to contain Big Bear, the Bears countered with another long touchdown run, and then stretched the lead to 24-10 after halftime.

The latter score occurred shortly after a crushing play for the Saints. Driving into Bears territory and threatening to tie the game, Ramos successfully pulled off a fake punt play for a first down—to find out soon after that it was rescinded for a penalty. After the play, Ramos came hobbling off the field with a shoulder injury. He never returned to the game.


TOUCHDOWN!
Senior wide receiver John Ramos (No. 7) jumps on QB Blake Truhitte (No. 2) after a touchdown run in the first quarter.
PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON

Down their best wide receiver, Truhitte took the hopeful comeback into his own hands, willing countless spectacular runs, miraculous scrambles, and heroic passes that resulted in two more Saints touchdowns. The Saints never gave up. They forced a Bears fumble, attempted two onside kicks, and fought until the final whistle—but it was too little too late.

They came up short of a title, but the community’s circle around the team after the game highlighted the significance of what transpired at the first-ever CIF finals game hosted at Santa Maria High School.

“It’s been great,” a stoic Truhitte said postgame. “We made some history.”

Sports contributor Peter Johnson can be reached at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.




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