Lompoc is unfamiliar territory.
The Braves' losing streak hit three games Thursday night as they fell to red-hot Santa Barbara 44-38 in a Channel League game at Huyck Stadium.
Before this current skid, Lompoc hadn't even lost back-to-back games under longtime coach Andrew Jones, who's in his 12th season leading his alma mater.
Things went from bad to worse Friday, certainly, but the sky isn't falling in Lompoc. These three straight losses have come by a combined 11 points.
And there's a common theme among them: Lompoc's defense has allowed at least 34 points in all of them.
The Braves are now 3-3 on the season and 0-1 in Channel League play. All three of the teams to beat Lompoc have winning records and all of them are on winning streaks.
Entering Friday's game at Pioneer Valley, Arroyo Grande, which beat Lompoc 48-47, is 3-2 and has won three straight.
Santa Ynez, which beat Lompoc for the first time since 2009, is 4-1 and is riding a four-game win streak into Friday’s game against Cabrillo.
Santa Barbara is now 5-1 and has won five in a row.
All three of Lompoc's losses have been in thrillers. After a combined 95 points were scored in the Lompoc-Arroyo Grande game, Santa Ynez erased a 10-point deficit in the second half to beat Lompoc 34-30.
Then came Thursday's game at Huyck Stadium. The first quarter took 45 minutes and the game finished in just over three hours.
Santa Barbara went up 14-0 with two touchdown passes from Abel Renteria to Weston Bartely midway through the first quarter. Not even 10 minutes into the game, the Dons extended their lead to 21-0 when Trent Williams laid out for a diving touchdown catch.
The Braves were stunned early, but they snapped out of it, starting with sophomore Nelson Maldonado's 19-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Cavin Ross. The Braves’ point-after try failed.
A 24-yard field goal from Jeffery Lechuga put the Dons up 24-6.
Lompoc star Sheldon Canley Jr. broke off his first big run of the night, scoring from 25 yards out to cut the deficit to 24-12. The Braves made it 24-14 on a two-point throw from Ross to Rudy Elizondo.
On the first play of the second half, Lompoc's Joel Angel Morales recovered a Santa Barbara fumble and the Braves turned that into a 30-yard field goal from Junior Gaeta, cutting Santa Barbara's lead to 24-17.
The Brave defense continued to struggle, though, especially when Renteria used his legs. The sophomore quarterback, at 6-foot and 200 pounds, was a problem for the Braves to tackle in the open field. He also made plenty of plays with his arm. Renteria scored on an 18-yard run to give the Dons a 31-17 lead with 4:18 left in the third.
But the Braves kept fighting back. They made it a one-score game when Ross rolled to his right, went through his progressions and found an open Maldonado inside the 5. Ross threw a strike and Maldonado slipped into the end zone on a 20-yard touchdown pass. That cut Santa Barbara's lead to 31-24 with 1:51 remaining in the third quarter.
Lompoc's defense making a stand made the game incredibly interesting. The Braves forced a punt and senior standout Deville "Joker" Dickerson returned it inside the Don 30. There was a scuffle at midfield between a Lompoc player and a Santa Barbara player. The SBHS player was ejected and the Braves started this possession inside the 20 after a penalty.
The drive didn't go anywhere, though, setting up a fourth-and-7 from the 14. Lompoc coach Andrew Jones decided to keep his offense on the field and run a play. What a play it was.
The Braves scored on a 14-yard pass from Dickerson, the star receiver, to Maldonado. It came on a reverse, with Ross and Canley rolling to the left out of the backfield and Ross handing the ball off to Dickerson streaking to the right. Dickerson then lofted a pass to an open Maldonado, who reached for the ball at the 5, caught it and cruised into the end zone. Gaeta's extra point tied the score at 31.
Alas, Lompoc's defense could not hold. Renteria converted a third-and-8 with a perfectly-timed quarterback draw and from there it was mostly Santa Barbara.
A 10-yard Renteria run gave Santa Barbara a 38-31 lead 6:07 left in the game.
The Braves would turn the ball over on downs on their ensuing possession and Santa Barbara extended their lead to 44-31 with 2:08 left.
Again, though, the Braves stayed with it. The final score came on a beautifully-designed 28-yard pass from Ross to Elizondo, who was even held on his route where he went up, faked an out and ran to the post, beating his defender and the safety over top of the play.
That made it 44-38 and the Braves went for the onside kick, but weren't able to recover it and Santa Barbara took a knee to drain the final 90 seconds off the clock.