Running back Jayden Vargas had another solid outing, and the bend-but-don't-break Pirate defense came up with big plays when they needed it the most as the Ventura College football team held on for a 30-26 victory Saturday night at Long Beach City College. With the victory, VC (8-2, 4-1) captured a share of the Northern Conference championship with LBCC and Canyons, the program's sixth conference title in the last eight seasons. Kicker Alberto Arroyo had three field goals and Travis Calloway had 13 tackles to lead Ventura to the triumph on the last day of the regular season.
The defense came to play early. Calloway had a tackle for a loss on the first play from scrimmage, and two plays later Calvin Williams intercepted a Long Beach pass to give VC possession at midfield. The Pirates took advantage of the takeaway with a 28-yard Arroyo field goal to take the early 3-0 lead.
After a Viking touchdown on the next possession, Chris Reaves set Ventura up with a 53 yard kickoff return. Add it a 15-yard LBCC penalty and the Pirates were in business. Terrell Vaughn had a 22-yard run on first down, then Vargas scampered seven yards to the end zone for another quick VC score. Arroyo's kick gave Ventura the 10-7 edge at the end of the first quarter.
Early in the second period, LBCC missed a long field goal attempt. The Pirates turned it around, driving 52 yards in five plays, culminating in Arroyo's 40-yard kick for a 13-7 margin.
The Vikings followed with a successful kick to pull to within three, 13-10, and after the teams exchanged punts, Ventura took over with 1:07 remaining in the half around mid field. The Pirates executed the 2-minute drill, including a 27-yard pass from quarterback Dino Maldonado to Reaves, setting up Arroyo's 45-yard field goal to close the half. VC took a 16-10 lead into intermission.
Ventura come out strong in the second half behind another long return by Reaves. Following the 45-yard return, VC drove 48 yards in eight plays, punctuated by a 2-yard run to paydirt by Vargas. Arroyo's kick made it 23-10 for the Pirates.
Four plays into the ensuing Long Beach drive, the VC defense made the big play. Jalen Cooper recovered a Viking fumble on the LBCC 34-yard line, giving Ventura a short field to extend the lead. Four plays later they did just that as Vargas found the end zone from two yards out. Maldonado had 17-yard pass completions to Reaves and Vaughn on the short drive, and Arroyo provided the punctuation with another successful PAT for the 30-10 Ventura advantage with 8:48 left in the third quarter.
Early in the final stanza, Long Beach scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions to close the gap to 30-24. With 5:34 remaining, Ventura fumbled the ball away deep in their own territory, but the defense rose to the occasion. Long Beach used a 24-yard run to advance to the VC 1-yard line and a first-and-goal. The Pirates stuffed two straight runs before Cooper got a big tackle-for-loss on third down. An incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line ended the LBCC threat.
Ventura took over on downs, and were tackled in the end zone for a safety, making the score 30-26, but Long Beach never threatened again.
Following the Pirates' free kick, Long Beach did get the ball to the VC 35-yard line once, and got the ball back in their own territory to end the game as Ventura held on for the victory, gaining a share of the conference crown.
Maldonado was 16-27 in the air for 235 yards while Vaughn extended his school record for pass receptions with seven catches for 76 yards. Maldonado connected with seven different Pirate receivers in the game.
Cooper had 10 stops in the game, none bigger than his tackle on the late goal line stand, and Dassani Freeman recorded nine tackles.
The Pirates now await their post-season fate. The Northern Conference's automatic bid into the playoffs will be determined by a tie-breaking formula, and the playoff representative will likely receive the No. 2 seed and a home game in the playoffs on Saturday Nov. 23. Barring that scenario, VC will most likely host a bowl game, also on Saturday Nov. 23. This will be the Pirates' ninth consecutive trip to the post-season under head coach Steve Mooshagian.