Toa Taua didn’t find the end zone. Neither did Shemar Savage – who has been Lompoc’s other dynamic six-point threat.
But it turns out the Braves didn’t need either one to bail them out, as Lompoc turned to the likes of Jimmy Gardner and a fierce defense to propel the 17-7 home win at Huyck Stadium against the undefeated Santa Ynez Pirates on Friday night.
Taua was bothered by cramps and three to four Pirates swarming around him when he had the ball. Savage was overthrown at least twice and was covered by Gabe Prendergast for most of the night. Xavier Nix was also under duress for most of the night at quarterback.
But Lompoc (8-0, 2-0 in the Los Padres League) proved it can win without both Taua and Savage going off – and can win in a tight defensive contest.
Head coach Andrew Jones was reminded that even the most dominant of teams can struggle in victories.
“Even the Patriots don’t blow everyone out. Alabama doesn’t blow everyone out all the time. I don’t think you can, realistically, play perfect and blow everyone out all the time,” said Jones, who is now 8-0 against the Pirates as LHS head coach.
The Braves struggled with getting big plays against an exotic Pirate defense with head coach Josh McClurg calling the shots there. McClurg’s top defensive playmakers Travis Vreeland, A.J. Reynoso and Dustin Gregg helped neutralize the Braves throughout the night – including forcing three takeaways.
Gregg, also the Pirates' quarterback, intercepted Nix inside the Braves’ 25-yard line in the first half. Lompoc also coughed up the ball inside the Pirates’ 5-yard line on a center-to-quarterback exchange mishap.
But Lompoc’s defense was equally stout.
Despite Lompoc not sacking Gregg throughout the night, the Brave secondary prevented big receptions from the Pirates’ explosive duo of Gabe Prendergast and Jasper Kadlec – both of whom were held out of the end zone. Savage, Johnny Manzo and Dallas Canley were all credited there for their ability to throw the blanket on the Pirates’ tall receiving options in the secondary.
“There was a mixture of poor execution, dropped passes, dropped touchdowns and turnovers,” Jones said. “You had a mixture of that along with Santa Ynez playing their butts off. You have to tip your hat to Josh and his defensive staff. They tackled well and were able to slow us down.”
Gardner, who Jones described as one of his more cerebral players on defense, closed fast on a Gregg pass in the third quarter for his pick. But the ensuing Braves’ drive stalled.
The senior, who is known more for closing off running lanes with his angle pursuits and for calling the defensive schemes, showed his versatility on offense too – on a 10-yard touchdown reception that saw Nix execute the play fake and find Gardner in the right corner of the end zone.
“We had worked on that play all week – and we saved it at a good time,” said Gardner, who lined up as a tight end on the score. “The quarterback did his job and dumped it off to me.”
The last five contests prior to tonight have seen this lopsided advantage: Lompoc winning those games by a combined score of 269-30. McClurg, however, saw a more valiant display from his now 7-1 team.
“I’m proud as hell for them,” McClurg said. “It was our goal to make sure they respected us and I think you can say that those players (on Lompoc) now respect us.”
While McClurg brilliantly drew up some schemes to slow down Taua and Savage, Lompoc countered with its own defensive attack.
“Just as much as I thought we did a great job to slow down their run game, I thought their defense did a phenomenal job of shutting Prendergast down. They put Shemar on him and Manzo on Jasper – and we had a hard time finding our spots. My hat’s off to their defensive game plan. They did a great job.”
Lompoc will now return home to face St. Joseph on senior night next Friday at 7 p.m. Santa Ynez will now return home for its senior night on Friday against Pioneer Valley at 7 p.m.