Derek Ray 5:51 p.m., May 19
SOLANA BEACH – Santa Fe Christian felt like its challenging nonleague schedule served as solid preparation for the Coastal League, and the Eagles were proven right in their opener. Against Horizon on Saturday afternoon, Santa Fe Christian controlled the line of scrimmage and ran its way to a 27-7 victory.
“The biggest thing we learned from our preseason was the physicality,” said Santa Fe Christian senior quarterback/safety Hunter Vaccaro. “We played bigger schools, and we learned how to be physical and how to compete through the fourth quarter.”
Santa Fe Christian (3-3, 1-0 Coastal) set a physical tone on the game’s first possession. The Eagles took the opening kickoff and ran nearly six minutes off the clock while driving 65 yards for a touchdown – a four-yard run by junior running back Jerry Harper.
“It showed us that we’re in control of the game, we’re in control of the clock and there’s nothing that they are going to do to stop our machine of an offense,” Vaccaro said.
Santa Fe Christian had the ball for 18 minutes of the first half and kept Horizon (4-2, 0-1) from developing an offensive rhythm. The Eagles made it 14-0 in the last minute of the second quarter with an 11-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Tony Miro.
“We needed to control the ball – we needed to grind it and keep the ball out of their hands,” said Santa Fe Christian head coach Nick Ruscetta. “That was a big [emphasis] before the game – ball possession.”
While Santa Fe Christian methodically moved the ball throughout the first half, Horizon didn’t run a play in opposing territory. The Eagles bottled up Horizon’s senior duo of quarterback Markel Byrd and receiver Darren Carrington, who didn’t connect once in the opening two quarters.
“The first time they got the ball in the first half it was a big question mark. We weren’t sure if we could handle Byrd scrambling around, but our linebackers did exactly what they were coached to do and we kept him contained,” Vaccaro said.
Rather than allowing a Horizon comeback after halftime, Santa Fe Christian continued its efficient play. The Eagles stopped the Panthers to start the second half and scored on the ensuing possession – a 72-yard drive capped by a Vaccaro four-yard touchdown run with 2:16 left in the third quarter.
“The offensive line came in knowing they definitely outmatched their defensive line, and after the first crack of pads they knew these guys don’t want what we got,” Vaccaro said. “By the end of the first half Horizon didn’t want any more, and I give that all to the offensive and defensive line.”
In the fourth quarter, Santa Fe Christian added to its lead on a Vaccaro one-yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown. Horizon avoided the shutout with a late touchdown pass from Byrd to Carrington, but the Eagles still prevailed in comfortable fashion to begin their league title defense.
“It sets the entire season back on track and sets us on that course to get a Coastal League championship,” Vaccaro said.
Santa Fe Christian finished with 297 rushing yards, led by Miro’s 15 carries for 126 yards. The Eagles only attempted two passes, relying on a rushing attack powered by the experienced offensive line of seniors Dominic Burtech, Connor Vaccaro, Isaiah Carter and Zach Neufeld, along with junior Darrian Borboa.
“That’s kind of what we’re known for – we’re not very flashy but we execute and do what we do,” Ruscetta said. “This year we’re kind of young in the backfield but we’re very senior-heavy on the line, and our rallying cry was that these guys are going to take care of business.”
Pictured: Horizon sophomore defensive back Anthony Oseguera lays out to block a punt attempt by Santa Fe Christian junior Drew Shields