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Comeback falls short in 45-34 setback

Alexander Cuevas produced three TDs in his Vaquero debut at quarterback -- two rushing and a 70-yard pass to Elijah King. (Photo by Dave Loveton)
Alexander Cuevas produced three TDs in his Vaquero debut at quarterback -- two rushing and a 70-yard pass to Elijah King. (Photo by Dave Loveton)

After a tough first half on a hot Saturday afternoon, SBCC stormed back to give San Bernardino Valley a scare before dropping a 45-34 decision in the football season opener at San Bernardino.

The Vaqueros lost the opening kickoff on a fumble that caromed out of the end zone and Kevin Dyer ran seven yards on first down for a quick 7-0 Wolverine lead. Santa Barbara committed four turnovers (three fumbles, one interception) that led to four touchdowns in the first two quarters.

SBVC's southpaw quarterback Daniel Epperson threw for 219 yards and three TDs in the opening half. His 19-yard toss to DiAndre Jackson gave the home team a 35-7 lead with 4:06 to go in the second quarter.

Kameron Carroll intercepted a pass late in the first half and the Vaqueros got a 37-yard field goal from Blake Levin as time expired to trail 35-10 at intermission.

"It's hard when you put yourself in a hole like that but the guys never gave up," said SBCC coach Craig Moropoulos. "They came back hard and we had some really good things happen in the second half."

Good things like a 70-yard TD pass to Elijah King and a school-record 100-yard kickoff return by Elijah Cunningham.

Quarterback Alexander Cuevas scored the Vaqueros' first TD of the year on a 1-yard run in the second quarter. He added a 6-yard cutback run and leaped into the end zone, cutting the deficit to 35-17 with 6:16 to go in the third.

Levin booted another 37-yard field goal late in the third and, following a field goal by the Wolverines, Cuevas hooked up with King on a 70-yard TD pass that shaved the margin to 11 (38-27) with 12:09 to play. King made a leaping catch at the SBVC 45 and a sharp cut across the field created an open path to the goal line.

In his Vaquero debut, Cuevas completed 13-of-27 passes for 207 yards with one TD and one interception. He also ran 20 times for 43 yards and two TDs.

"We're a young team that got off to a shaky start in our first game, and you see that a lot if you watch Div. 1 college games on TV," said Cuevas, a 6-1 sophomore who transferred from Cerritos College. "We came in with some fire in that second half. We just need to clean up the mistakes and get back to work next week."

The Wolverines went back up by 18 on Epperson's fourth TD pass, a 7-yarder to Brandy Holmes that made it 45-27 with 9:32 left. Epperson completed 21-of-36 in the game for 236 yards and four touchdowns. Holmes caught eight passes for 106 yards.

On the ensuing kickoff, Cunningham electrified the crowd with a school-record 100-yard return up the left sideline. He caught the ball four yards deep in the end zone, so it was actually 104 yards but it goes down officially as 100 yards. Kyle Brown held the previous record with a 99-yard kick return in a 2012 game vs. Hancock.

Chad Woolsey, a freshman from Vista, Calif., led the Vaquero rushing attack with 82 yards on 15 carries. Elisha Allen and Thomas Hopp sparked the defense with nine and eight tackles, respectively. Clayton Hanly made five tackles (three for loss), including two sacks.

San Bernardino won the first-down battle 18-13 and the total yardage was nearly even with the Wolverines edging the Vaqueros by seven yards (352-345).

"After we settled down, the guys really got after it and I was proud of them," said Moropoulos. "Obviously, we have a lot of young guys but we also have a lot of guys who can make plays.  I knew we'd make some young mistakes, though I didn't think it would be like that.

"I was very proud of the way we came back, that shows a lot about our character."

The Vaqueros will host Hancock in their home opener on Saturday at 1 p.m. in La Playa Stadium.