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Cuevas throws 4 TDs in thrilling 40-39 win

Alexander Cuevas threw for 4 TDs and ran for the game-winning score in his final game for the Vaqueros. (Photo by Ken Sciallo / Sevilla Photography)
Alexander Cuevas threw for 4 TDs and ran for the game-winning score in his final game for the Vaqueros. (Photo by Ken Sciallo / Sevilla Photography)

Quarterback Alexander Cuevas threw for 266 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday, leading SBCC to a thrilling 40-39 comeback win in its football finale at Glendale.

Glendale took a 20-0 lead in the second quarter and a 39-28 advantage early in the fourth when David Arriaga hit Nico Cantos on a 13-yard slant.

A Kameron Carroll interception set SBCC up on its own 46 and seven plays later, Cuevas found Ronald Smith-Carter on a well-executed 20-yard screen for the TD. The Vaquero defense forced a punt and Cuevas directed a 9-play, 59-yard march for the winning score – a 1-yard plunge by Cuevas that made it 40-39 with 4:55 to play.

Cuevas tried a pass on the 2-point conversion but it was too high for tight end Alexander Argent.

"The defense hung in there in the second half and made some big stops," said Cuevas. "We got off to a slow start on offense, then started to pick it up in the second quarter. Our line was making some big runs pop and that opened up the pass game. We got great plays from our receivers.

"It's awesome to win our last game and go 5-5. It's great for the freshmen and our incoming recruiting class. Smith-Carter was great, he works hard and I'm glad we connected on a few touchdowns."

Smith-Carter caught six passes for 63 yards and three went for touchdowns.

Cuevas, a sophomore from Culver City High, completed 26-of-41 passes with four TDs and one interception. He surpassed the 1,000-yard passing mark (1,015) in his seventh game of the year. He also led SBCC in rushing with 73 yards and a TD on 20 attempts. For the day, he had 339 total yards and five touchdowns.

The Vaqueros (5-5, 4-3 APL) fumbled away a kickoff and a running play in the first 20 minutes and Glendale (3-7, 2-5) took advantage to build its 20-0 lead. Santa Barbara came alive in the second period with a pair of long drives (73 and 88 yards) that shaved the deficit to six points by halftime, 20-14.

Deon Dickey scored the Vaqueros first TD on a 4-yard run and Cuevas hit Smith-Carter on a 5-yard tightrope catch just inside the left sideline of the end zone. The second score came with 15.4 seconds left in the first half.

The Vaqueros piled up a season-high 33 first downs and 462 yards of offense, including 196 on the ground. Marvin Millett gained 70 yards on 16 rushes. Santa Barbara converted nearly 50 percent of its third-down opportunities (9-19) and was 5-5 on red-zone conversions, scoring a TD each time.

Freshman Elijah Cunningham, the state leader in kickoff returns (40.8 average), made five of them on Saturday, including several from a couple yards deep in the end zone. He averaged 32.8 yards and broke free on an 82-yarder in the third quarter. That set up SBCC at the Glendale 18 and four plays later, Cuevas found Smith-Carter for a 13-yard score that gave the visitors their first lead, 21-20, with 12:49 to go in the third.

"Ronald's got a great future ahead of him," said coach Craig Moropoulos. "He's very talented, he's very physical and he makes big plays."

There were five lead changes in the final 22 minutes. The Vaqueros drove 85 yards midway through the third and took a 28-27 lead on a 37-yard pass from Cuevas to Jason-Matthew Sharsh.

"Games like this are the worst, they're the most nerve-wracking ever," said Moropoulos. "You can't make a mistake because if you do, you fall behind.
 "The No. 1 thing is we never gave up. We kept coming and coming and our defense rose up there at the end. I'm very happy the way the game ended."

After taking the 40-39 lead, the Vaqueros forced a three-and-out with Lordes Jones making a 4-yard tackle for loss and Evan Defer sacking the QB for an 8-yard loss on third down. Defer led the defense with eight tackles.

Santa Barbara took over with 3:16 to play near midfield but couldn't gain a yard. Joel Whitford came on to punt but Glendale was called for roughing-the-kicker, giving SBCC a first down at the Glendale 41 and ending the contest.

"There were some frustrations but we were in every game," Moropoulos concluded. "The season started with a kickoff  that went off our guy's facemask and right to them at the 7. We didn't give up in that game and we didn't give up the entire season.

"I'm very pleased with where the program's heading."