Victories come at a premium in the upper echelon of the National Division of the Southern California Football Association. The 9th-ranked Pirate football team has found that out this season, falling twice on the road to top-ranked opponents. Saturday they put together their best performance of the season and came from behind to defeat No. 3 Saddleback 44-34 at the VC Sportsplex heading into their bye week and Northern Conference action with momentum in their back pocket.
Quarterback Jake Constantine led the effort with 227 yards through the air with five touchdown strikes while Kendric Mallory produced 12 catches for 90 yards and three scores. Gil Scott Jackson had 118 yards on 10 carries and a score to lead the Pirates' ground game.
Ventura had developed a bad habit in 2017 of starting games slowly. That was not the case Saturday as Constantine led the Pirates first drive 75 yards in 11 plays for the game's first score, a 21-yard scoring strike to Mallory. Cooper Garcia's extra point made it 7-0 for Ventura less than five minutes into the game.
Late in the opening stanza, a bad snap on a punt attempt by Saddleback went out of the end zone for a safety. On the ensuing free kick, Savion Simms returned it 35 yards to mid field, setting up Jackson's 47 yard touchdown scamper two plays later.
The Gauchos got on the board early in the second quarter, and followed that up with a field goal to close to within 16-10 at the 9:23 mark before halftime.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kezio Snelling raced to a 34-yard return, setting up the Pirate offense near mid field once again. Constantine took over from there, matriculating VC down the field 52 yards in 11 plays, culminating in a 1-yard touchdown pass to Mallory. Garcia's kick made it 23-10 with 5:21 on the clock.
The Ventura defense forced a three-and-out on the next Saddleback possession, and a 10-yard punt put VC back in business with a short field once again. the Pirates took just five plays to cover the 37 yards to paydirt, as Constantine hooked up with Tony Daggett for a 5-yard pass and run for the score. Garcia's PAT gave Ventura a 30-10 advantage at halftime.
The previously undefeated Gauchos came out strong in the second half. They took the opening kick down the field for a field goal, then forced a VC fumble, resulting in another score. The Pirate lead had been trimmed in half in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
After a three-and0out by VC, Saddleback took the ball down field again, scoring another touchdown to cut the lead to 30-27 with 6:01 left in the period.
Following another Pirate fumble, the Gauchos took the lead with a scoring run from two yards out, making the score 34-30 at the 3:17 mark of the third quarter.
After another Ventura punt, the Pirate defense came up big. Early in the fourth quarter, Bradley Taylor picked a tipped pass out of the air for the interception, running the ball back to the end zone. A penalty brought the ball back to the Gauchos' 37-yard line, but momentum had shifted.
Constantine took the offense down the short field, finding the end zone on a 14-yard pass and run to Sam Flowers. After Garcia's kick, Ventura jumped back out on top, 37-24, with 10:52 remaining in the game.
After a Saddleback punt on the next possession, the VC ground game brought the Gauchos to their knees. VC possessed the ball for nearly six minutes, driving 82 yards in 13 plays with 10 rushes before Constantine put the game away with his fifth touchdown pass. He hit Mallory from 11 yards out, and Garcia's kick made the final margin 44-34 for the Pirates.
Ventura dominated the ground game, outgaining Saddleback 220-60 on the ground. Ventura had six players run the ball, including Jackson and Tyrese Gholar, who ended the night with 53 yards on nine carries.
Eight different Pirate receivers recorded a catch, led by Mallory and Daggett's eight catches for 64 yards.
The kick return game was also crucial for VC with Snelling averaging 24 yards per return on six attempts.
Defensively, Alvin Pacheco led VC with 12 tackles, including one for a loss. Jaylen Watson, Kenny Turnier and Steven Nolasco all had seven tackles each. Ventura had five quarterback sacks, one each from five different players.
The Pirates head into the bye week with momentum from the big upset win. They will host College of the Canyons in the Northern Conference opener in a Thursday night special Oct. 12. Kick-off is slated for 7:00 pm at the Sportsplex. The game can also be seen live on the VC Sports Network.