SANTA BARBARA — The simple, telling fact is this: Cal Lutheran lost to UC Santa Barbara, 16-15, with 8,748 people watching at Harder Stadium on Saturday.
But it is more complicated, really, than that. In the end, the one point that separated CLU from Santa Barbara transcended the score of one football game. It represented a tale of two teams in transition--and the altogether different direction in which each is headed.
While the Kingsmen (3-6) sank deeper into a pit already full of losses, the Gauchos (7-2) continued their climb toward--in their minds--boundless glory.
Division III Santa Barbara, a program recently brought back into circulation after a 15-year football drought, looked at Saturday's game as a measuring stick, an indication of where it stood. The Gauchos already had beaten up on the Pomona-Pitzers and Azusa Pacifics on their schedule. It was time to smack a 25-scholarship Division II school in the chops, which they did.
"Our spirit was up," said running back Kenny Smith, who gained 106 yards in 20 carries and scored a touchdown. "We just wanted to let the city, to let the world know we can play with these guys."
"Yeah," he said. Today Thousand Oaks, tomorrow Moscow.
"Anybody who wants to play us is gonna find that they have a game on their hands," he said. "I think this program can be as good as UCLA. I really do."
For now, the Gauchos will settle for the Kingsmen.
"This is our biggest win ever," said receiver Sean Russell, who caught eight passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Added senior All-American linebacker Klaus Leitenbauer, who has seen UCSB evolve from a club team in 1985 to its present stature: "What a great way to go out."
Cal Lutheran, though, disagreed.
Not only did it lose, it had its fortitude ripped out and left on the field when, with five seconds remaining, UCSB's John Corrigan kicked a 28-yard field goal to tightly tuck the game away.
Only minutes earlier the Kingsmen, trailing, 13-12, took advantage of an interception by Ben Vermillion at the Santa Barbara 40-yard line by driving to the 22. On fourth and two, Tracy Downs appeared to pick up enough yardage for a first down, but CLU was called for a holding penalty, knocking it back to the 32.
Bill Hawk then drilled a 47-yard field goal, giving the Kingsmen a 15-13 lead and cause for celebration, albeit a little premature.
Shortly thereafter, the Gauchos drove 80 yards in nine plays to set up Corrigan's field goal. Russell, who transferred to Santa Barbara from San Diego State, looked like a Division I receiver. On the last drive, he caught two 16-yard passes, allowing the Gauchos to indeed show the world what they could do, revealing along the way what the Kingsmen could not.
CLU defensive tackle Russell Patterson, a senior, echoed the sentiments of his teammates when he said, "We played worse as the game went on. I don't know. It hurts, everyone of these losses hurts."
Until the fourth quarter, Cal Lutheran controlled the game. The first of its two first-half touchdowns came on a 22-yard run by Noel Chesnut, which finished off a 64-yard drive. The key plays setting up Chesnut's run included a 21-yard pass from Tom Bonds to John Bankhead, moving the ball to the 30. Downs then rushed to the 22. Hawk's point-after attempt was blocked by Santa Barbara's Lance Neal.
The Kingsmen scored a second time when, midway through the second quarter, Bonds dropped back, waiting as Joe Monarrez set up at the back of the end zone. Bonds then lofted a pass 25 yards to the receiver, who jumped between defensive backs Darryl Thomas and Marc Nicoechea. Monarrez managed to come down with the ball in his hands and his feet in bounds. But the two-point conversion attempt failed.
CLU scored again in the final minutes of the half, but as defeat's destiny had it, the 21-yard pass from Bonds to Bankhead was called back on another holding penalty.
Said Downs afterward: "We weren't as up for this game as we were last week. But Santa Barbara is a good team. They're moving up."
A directional path the Kingsmen dearly need to rediscover.