Montclair Prep Coach Pat Blackburn's venture Saturday night into the Alpha League was not quite the walk in the park he expected.
Blackburn had said league play would be a "vacation" compared to his team's tough preleague schedule. Instead the Mounties, behind Mike Jones' three touchdown runs, struggled to a 21-14 victory over L. A. Baptist in a league opener at Valley College.
Lee Szabo blocked a Montclair Prep punt late in the fourth period and scored on an eight-yard touchdown run with 4:45 to play to make the game close.
The Mounties (3-3) managed to run out the clock, thanks mostly to a 31-yard pass by quarterback Keyaan Cook to Tom Kilby.
Blackburn, as expected, was surprised by the nail-biter.
"No, I didn't expect the blocked punt," Blackburn said. "They're a good, tough team, but we'd have won by two touchdowns if we didn't have the blocked punt."
The Knights (3-2) struck first, with Szabo capping a 55-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run. Mike Vanderhorst's kick gave L. A. Baptist a 7-0 lead with 5:59 left in the first period.
Montclair Prep reversed the momentum on the final play of the first quarter when Kilby blocked Szabo's punt and fell on the ball at the Knights' 16-yard line.
Three plays later, Jones scored the first of his two first-half touchdowns on a 14-yard run. Adam Fishman's kick tied the score, 7-7, with 10:40 left in the half.
Jones scored again on a one-yard run late in the period as the Mounties took a 14-7 lead at intermission.
Other than two touchdown runs, L. A. Baptist held Jones in check in the first half, limiting him to two yards on six carries.
A Szabo fumble gave the Mounties the ball at the Knights' 41-yard line early in the third period, and Jones scored his third touchdown on a 17-yard run with 8:25 left in the quarter. Fishman's kick put Montclair Prep ahead, 21-7.
It stayed that way, with both teams exchanging punts, until Szabo broke through the Mounties' line and blocked Fishman's punt in the fourth period.
Jones, a sophomore who has gained 432 yards on 80 carries, finished with just 19 yards on nine carries.
Kilby caught five passes for 94 yards, blocked a punt and recovered a fumble for the Mounties.