SOUTH EL MONTE — Santa Maria is on the brink of the CIF Southern Section Division 12 championship after a convincing semifinal win Friday night.
Quarterback Blake Truhitte ran for four scores and threw for another and the defense checked a high-powered South El Monte offense as the Saints won 35-14 at South El Monte High School.
“We knew they were run-oriented just like we are, they’re battle tested just like we are and we knew we had to stop the run first,” said Saints’ center and defensive lineman Gabriel Bravo.
The Saints did that well enough to earn a title shot, and they will get a home game against Big Bear as they go after the divisional championship.
“I’m not sure if it will be at Santa Maria High School or if we have to go to a neutral site somewhere in town,” said Santa Maria coach Dan Ellington.
“We might find out Monday, but I’m not sure.”
They should also find out whether the game will be played next Friday or Saturday.
The Saints moved to 9-4. They have won seven straight. The Eagles finished 11-2.
Santa Maria defeated a higher seed for the second week in a row by beating the fourth-ranked Eagles. The eighth-ranked Saints knocked out No. 1 Montebello Schurr last week.
The Saints held Eagles star back Sal Tovar to 50 yards in the first half, but Tovar broke loose for a 58-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half.
The Eagles drew within 21-14 when Daniel Olmos hit Jarvis Alexander-Godinez for an 11-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter.
The Saints re-gained the momentum when they answered with a 67-yard scoring drive. Truhitte finished it with an 11-yard touchdown run.
The Saints forced the Eagles to go three-and-out the next series, Truhitte scored on a 17-yard run and the Saints were in their way.
“These kids just find a way to win,” said Ellington. “Our defense was playing great and our offensive line really opened some holes for us to run through.”
Bravo, lineman Jason Sanchez, end Gerardo Zul and linebacker helped the Saints check an offense that had been averaging better than 40 points a game for the second straight week.
“We knew that they were run first,” said Sanchez.
“It was just a matter of knowing the formations. They’d go to the “I”, a single back. We knew what they were going to do.”
Bravo and others credited the scout team. “They give us some beautiful looks on practice of what the opponent is going to do,” Bravo said.
Tovar has rushed for more than 2,000 yards this year. The Saints kept him to a fairly quiet 134.
Truhitte ran 177 yards. Robert Ruiz had another 75. Ramos had seven receptions for 110 total yards.
Santa Maria started quickly in its first semifinal playoff appearance since 1988.
Quarterback Blake Truhitte scored on a 3-yard run in the first series of the game. South El Monte went three-and out after the ensuing kickoff.
The Saints were en route to a 21-0 halftime lead.
Truhitte sprinted into the end zone from 43 yards out on the next possession. Jonathan Ramos fumbled the ball away at the SEM 7 shortly thereafter.
He atoned for that by hauling in a 54-yard touchdown pass from Truhitte.
The defense kept the Eagles to 104 yards of offense in the first half. John Rojas blocked a 32-yard South El Monte field goal try shortly before intermission.