A.J. Pateras and Dan Ellington are two of the most optimistic people you might ever meet.
Pateras, the first-year head football coach at Cabrillo High, and Ellington, now in his third year guiding the Santa Maria program, are simply bubbling with enthusiasm for both the game and their teams.
But the two will be all business when the Conquistadores visit the Saints for a non-league game Friday night.
“It should be a good game,” said Pateras during his team’s practice Thursday afternoon at Cabrillo’s stadium. “Santa Maria is well coached. They can run the football, throw the football and their defense swarms to the ball. Our kids know they have to play hard, they have to match up with Santa Maria for four quarters.”
“We’re really looking forward to the game — everybody’s excited,” Ellington said during his team’s final run-through Thursday afternoon at the Saints' Ralph Baldiviez Stadium. “Last year’s success has created a lot of excitement on campus — a lot of excitement and expectations. We’re expected to compete at a high level and win this game. It’s good to have those expectations.”
After a breakthrough 5-5 season in 2016, Santa Maria is off to a 1-1 start in 2017 — opening the season with a 45-10 win at San Luis Obispo before dropping a 47-26 decision at Santa Barbara High last week.
“We’ve been playing good football,” said Ellington. “In the Santa Barbara game, the score didn’t indicate how well we played. We had a couple of key injuries and a couple turnovers. We learned a lot from our mistakes.”
The Saints lost star running back Isiah Garcia to an injury early in the Santa Barbara game.
“Losing Isiah early was a big blow to us,” said Ellington. “But his injury wasn’t serious, he’ll dress out. I’m not going to start him but he’s good to go. Having him on the field makes a big difference to our offense.”
Ellington also has second-year starter Blake Truhitte leading the Saints’ offense. The senior quarterback has thrown for five touchdowns this season, completing 14 of his 29 passes with two interceptions.
Truhitte, a senior, is also the team’s leading rusher, gaining 265 yards on 26 carries with one touchdown.
Joining Truhitte in the backfield will be a trio of senior running backs — Bobby Ruiz (24 carries, 177 yards and two touchdowns), Frank Lopez (18 carries for 71 yards) and Garcia (13 carries for 116 yards and two TDs).
Garcia is also a receiving threat coming out of the backfield.
The Saints have a pack of talented wide receivers for Truhitte to target — senior Jonathan Ramos, junior John Ramos, senior Adrian Ayala, junior Phillip Becerra and senior Gerardo Zul.
The Conqs will counter with senior and first-year starter Sean Wood at quarterback.
In his first two starts, Wood has completed eight of 41 pass attempts for 150 yards and one touchdown.
Wood has also carried the ball 21 times for 65 yards and one TD.
“Sean has been our starter but we’ve also got (junior) Jackson Anderson at quarterback,” said Pateras. “Both can run, both can throw and both are ready to compete.”
Pateras also uses five different backs to run the ball — junior Tito Maza, junior Mason Townes, sophomore JJ Lombrana, senior JD Czajkowski and senior Ben Dixon.
Dixon, Czajkowski and Townes are also Wood’s top receiving targets.
“We’re looking for some consistency — consistency with our blocking, route running and receiving. We’re not run oriented or pass oriented. We’re looking to mix it up,” said Pateras. “Whatever their defense gives us, we take. We want to put it all together to play four quarters of disciplined football.”
The Santa Maria defense will be led by some of its offensive stars — Garcia, Ruiz, Becerra, Rojas, Ramos, Ayala, Zul and Lopez. Lopez leads the Saints with 10 solo tackles and seven assists. Zul is right behind with nine solo tackles and four assists.
“Santa Barbara and Cabrillo are real similar teams,” said Ellington. “Both can run the ball. Both want to throw the ball. Both have really good quarterbacks who scramble really well. Both have good size up front on the “O” lines. I think our Santa Barbara game prepared us really well for this. I think we’re a really good defensive team. Out front four are as good as any front line in the area.”
For Cabrillo, Alex Bourne (16 solo tackles, 3 assists), Spencer Cothran (14 and 4), Anderson (10 and 4), Joey Brown (9 and 2), Danan Pacheco (9 and 2) and Christian Reyes (8 and 3) lead the Conqs in swarming to the ball.
If it comes down to the kicking game, both teams are in good shape.
Cabrillo’s Nikolai Glass has a 24-yard field goal to his credit while Santa Maria’s Diego Villagran hit one from 38-yards out.
“We go into every game thinking we can win,” said Pateras. “We’re just excited. We’ve played two very good schools. Our guys are excited to play another good opponent on the road Friday night.”
“Our kids have been working really hard. I’m expecting a good game,” said Ellington. “And it will be a special night — we’re giving our baseball team their CIF championship rings at halftime. It’s our first home game and we’re hoping for a good crowd. “
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.