The Pirate football team got off to a great start in Saturday's Southern California Football Association semifinal at Riverside. They forced a 3-and-out on the opening possession, had a strong opening drive, and forced the Tigers into two turnovers. Unfortunately, third-seeded VC (8-3) scored field goals instead of touchdowns and No. 2 Riverside took advantage in posting a 49-33 playoff victory.
Ventura quarterback Ricky Town had a solid performance coming in for injured starter Jake Constantine, passing for 271 yards and three touchdowns, all to wide receiver Sam Flowers who had four catches for 118 yards. Running back Thomas Duckett ran for 54 yards on 12 carries and Kendric Mallory recorded nine catches for 82 yards, but the Pirates could not hold back the Tigers, who rolled up 537 yards of total offense in the game.
The Pirate defense forced a 3-and out on the opening possession of the game, and VC took over on their own 28-yard line after the RCC punt. Ventura went 40 yards down the field on 10 plays, helped by a pair of Riverside penalties, and Cooper Garcia cashed in with a 49-yard field goal for a 3-0 Pirate lead.
Three plays later, VC's defense came up with the big play when Bryce Barnes intercepted a Tiger pass and returned it 20 yards to the RCC 39.
On a 3rd-and-10 at the Riverside 24, Constantine scrambled around left end, rushing for a first down to the 12-yard line before being tackled from behind. His legs got twisted beneath him on the tackle, and he remained down for a prolonged time, leaving the game with an knee injury. The drive ended three plays later and Garcia connected from 24 yards out with his second field goal and the Pirates led 6-0 with 4:35 left in the opening quarter.
Riverside answered quickly, moving 77 yards in five plays, including a 38-yard pass play. The extra point put the Tigers ahead 7-6.
Ventura was unable to gain a first down on the ensuing possession, but a 59-yard punt by Steve Sanchez turned field position around, pinning RCC at their own 12. Two plays later, Bradley Taylor picked off a Riverside pass and took it back to the RCC 10-yard line, giving the Pirates another excellent opportunity for a score.
Unfortunately, Ventura was only able to gain five yards in three plays, leaving Garcia for a chip-shot 22-yard kick to put the Pirates ahead 9-7 early in the second period.
The Tigers had another answer in an 86-yard drive in eight plays to paydirt, taking a 14-9 edge.
On the ensuing possession, the Pirate offense was finally able to find the end zone, moving 75 yards in just four plays for the response. Town completed a 30 yard pass to Kezio Snelling, a 13-yarder to Jared Thomsen, and a 30-yard scoring strike to Flowers. Garcia's PAT made it 16-14 for the Pirates with 9:02 on the clock.
RCC responded with another long touchdown drive to take a 21-16 edge.
On the Pirates' final possession of the half, they drove 61 yards in 11 plays, reaching the RCC 9-yard line before having to settle for Garcia's fourth field goal of the half. The Pirates trailed 21-19 at intermission.
Ventura took the opening kick of the third quarter and didn't skip a beat. Town led the team 75 yards in nine plays, hitting Flowers on a 40-yard pass and run to paydirt. Garcia's kick completed the touchdown and VC led 26-21 with 9:56 left in the stanza.
Riverside then hit with the counter punch, scoring on two long drives while exchanging punts with VC in between. The tigers moved out to a 35-26 lead early in the final period.
The Pirates attempted to make a comeback, beginning with a 39-yard scoring pass play from Town to Flowers on the next drive. Garcia's kick made it a 35-33 game with just over 11 minutes remaining, but Ventura would get no closer.
Riverside marched down the field on another scoring drive, then used a Pirate interception and an unsuccessful fake punt to close the door on VC's season. A late RCC score made the final 49-33 for the Tigers.
Garcia finished the night perfect in the kicking department with four field goals and three extra points. He finishes his sophomore season 15-20 in field goals and a perfect 59-59in PAT kicks. Flowers' three touchdown catches earned him Offensive Player of the Game honors. Defensively, Alvin Pacheco had 10 tackles while Steven Nolasco had nine stops. Jesse Lemonaire, Taylor and Julian Escobar-Rubio all recorded six tackles.
So the Pirates were left with another set of "what-if" questions, but also left the field after another successful season. VC won their fourth straight Northern Conference title and qualified for the SCFA playoffs for the fourth time in the past six seasons. They also made their program-best seventh-straight bowl appearance. And rest assured that coach Steve Mooshagian will have his Pirates back for another playoff run in 2018.