Spartans hold off Buena 14-13 on Friday night in Ventura.
Rio Mesa 14, Buena 13
Ventura, CA — Football may be the game of inches. Although, in the Channel League this fall, it has been a race of instants. “It came down to the 'club,' ” said Rio Mesa head coach Jim Bittner, referencing Gonzales’ black cast. It was the second straight one-point game for Rio Mesa, which fell at Santa Barbara last week when an open running lane closed up in an instant on the game-deciding conversion run in overtime. “Everything does really matter in this game,” said Rio Mesa center Anthony Garcia. The result leaves four teams within one loss atop the Channel League standings with three games to play, including second-place Buena (4-4, 4-1) and fourth-place Rio Mesa (4-2, 3-1). “The thing that we’ve got out of the last two weeks,” Bittner said, “we got two full games where they’ve had to work really hard and they couldn’t let up.” Rio Mesa junior J’Lin Wingo ran for 142 yards on 23 carries, moving the chains three times in the final four minutes as the Spartans ran out of the clock. “The kids did a great job of finishing the game,” Bittner said. “That was the biggest statement that we got from it.” Quarterback J.J. Bittner completed 16 of 27 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns, both to senior Henry Borjas, who filled the void left by injured star Chase Harrison by catching five passes for 123 yards. Zane Carter fell to 14-3 as Buena High’s starter at quarterback, despite completing 10 of 12 passes for 95 yards, running for 65 yards on 15 carries and leading a 14-play, 80-yard scoring march with the game in the balance in the fourth quarter. “I told them I’m so proud of the way that we battled,” Buena head coach Ryan Bolland said. “We were going to learn a lot about our team today because this is the best team that we’ve played, when we were at full strength.” Running back Camden Walker scored both touchdowns for the Bulldogs, a 10-yard run that opened the scoring with 6:06 left in the first half and a 4-yard run that pulled Buena on the brink of tying the game with 4:01 to play. Gonzales capitalized on a bobble on the snap to block the subsequent PAT, although the quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-defensive lineman had such a good jump on the snap that he may have blocked the kick even if the operation was clean. “You have to learn from mistakes,” Bolland said. “There’s several single plays that we could look at that might change the game. We have to learn from that the hard way, unfortunately.” After a scoreless 48 minutes of regulation last week in Santa Barbara, Rio Mesa nearly extended that streak to 62 minutes, before Walker’s 10-yard run finished an 11-play drive and gave Buena a 7-0 lead with 6:06 left in the first half. Rio Mesa needed just five snaps to respond. J.J. Bittner found Borjas running clean down a seam for a 68-yard scoring strike, which tied the score 7-7 with 4:32 left in the half. The Spartans took the lead with their own long scoring march, a 17-play, 81-yard, nine-minute drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters and featured three third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion. Borjas’ 21-yard scoring screen on third-and-12 put Rio Mesa ahead 14-7 with 11:08 to play. “We had our chances and we just missed them early,” Bittner said. “They hung in there.” Buena coolly responded with its own deliberate, seven-minute march. Carter converted a pair of fourth downs in plus territory to set up Walker’s second TD. “Anything that happens to us, we’re going to bounce back from it,” Rio Mesa safety Sal Maria said. “We’ve got enough guys who are ready to make plays. There’s no giving up.” Despite the setback, the performance convinced Bolland that Bulldogs belong in the league’s upper tier, alongside Pacifica, Rio Mesa, Santa Barbara and perhaps Ventura, which the Bulldogs host this Friday in the annual intracity rivalry game. "I think we learned we’re in that upper pack, which is great," Bolland said. "We did a ton of really good things. But I’m mostly super proud of the way these kids battled through a lot of adversity in a really physical football game."