The Vaqueros (3-1, 1-0) took a 28-17 halftime lead and rallied from a 31-28 third-quarter deficit to post their third straight win in the American Pacific League opener. They’ve scored 101 points in the last two weeks.
The 56 points tied for the third-highest total in school history and are the most since Nov. 9, 1996 when the Vaqueros set a school record in a 63-9 home win over Ventura.
Cooper, a sophomore from Seattle, gained 121 yards on 15 rushing attempts for an 8.1 average. He scampered 29 yards over left tackle to give the Vaqueros a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
The Vaqueros piled up 529 yards of total offense on 81 plays (6.5 average) while holding the Wildcats (1-3) to 291 yards on 58 plays. The Vaqueros won the first-down battle 29-15 and dominated the time of possession, 37:33 to 22:27.
“Our O-line did great a great job,” said Cooper. “We have some aggressive guys up front and they created some creases for me to hit. We did a great job running the ball today and that always helps open up the passing and play-action. We’re getting better by the week.”
Cooper also threw for a touchdown, taking a pitch to the right on fourth-and-goal from the 2 and throwing back to quarterback Brandon Edwards, who was wide open. That capped a 14-play, 73-yard drive on the Vaqueros’ first possession.
Cunningham, a former Santa Barbara High standout, rushed for 110 yards and two fourth-quarter TDs. He scored on runs of 1 and 39 yards to boost the lead to 49-31 with 10:51 to play.
“The O-line was wonderful today,” said Cunningham. “We were working all week on practicing our schemes. It felt good to score my first touchdown (at SBCC) and there’s many more to come.”
Orion Prescott added 89 yards on 11 attempts and had the longest TD of the day – a 59-yarder in the second quarter that featured a clever cutback at the West L.A. 32. After the Wildcats pulled to within 21-17 on a 30-yard field goal by Dennis Melara, SBCC responded with a 75-yard drive, capped by a 30-yard Edwards aerial to Osha Washington, who was open in the middle of the field. That TD with 2:11 remaining gave the Vaqueros a 28-17 halftime advantage.
The guys who opened the holes were Nigel Barnes (who moved to left tackle this week), Glenn Taylor from Lompoc (right tackle), Cole Ferrari (right guard), Brayden McCombs (center) and Ivan Malinarich-Campos (left guard from Sweden).
“I’m really proud of the offensive line,” said coach Craig Moropoulos. “We know we have some really talented running backs but you don’t do anything without an offensive line. We lost Matt Escobar (offensive lineman from Santa Barbara High) last week but we moved things around and it worked out.”
The Vaqueros stumbled in the third quarter, with a fumble by Prescott leading to a 39-yard TD return by Darrien Williams. Mitch Wishnowsky punted on the next possession and a Vaquero batted the ball backward at the West LA 47. Terrynce Duke picked it up at his 43 and sprinted 57 yards up the right sideline to give the Wildcats a 31-28 lead 4 minutes into the third quarter.
SBCC responded with a 10-play drive to the 5-yard line. Andrew Waters forced a fumble by Edwards at the 12 and it appeared that Prescott recovered at the 20. The officials ruled that West L.A. had gained possession and fumbled prior to Prescott’s recovery, however, and the Vaqueros had a first-and-10 at the 20.
Cooper ran 19 yards to the 1 and Edwards pushed his way into the end zone on a QB sneak. Blake Levin‘s fifth of eight PATs put Santa Barbara ahead to stay at 35-31. Edwards was his usual efficient self, completing 14-of-20 passes in the Vaqueros’ no-huddle offense for 149 yards and a TD.
Edwards ranks No. 7 in the state with a completion percentage of 64.5. He had an unusual trifecta – passing for a TD, running for a TD and catching a 2-yard TD.
After an interception by defensive lineman Parker Rozenburg and a punt by WLA, the Vaqueros drove 62 yards, buoyed by 28 yards from Cunningham, the nephew of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham. Cunningham took a pitch to the left and there were no defenders in sight on his 1-yard TD that made it 42-31.
The Vaqueros were 5-for-11 on third down, 2-2 on fourth down and 4-5 in the red zone. They’ve scored on 9-of-10 red-zone drives in the last two weeks.
SBCC will be home again on Saturday when L.A. Southwest visits for a 1 p.m. game.