PACIFIC PALASADES — Despite making mistakes, not looking particularly sharp and being hampered by a one-dimensional offensive attack, the Bellarmine-Jefferson High football team played St. Monica to a stalemate during the first half of their Santa Fe League game Thursday night.
However, the Guards’ defense seemed to tire under the relentless Mariners rushing barrage in the second half. Bell-Jeff fell behind, and unable to mount any kind of passing game, it couldn’t fight its way back, losing, 34-14, at Palisades High.
The win would have secured the Guards (4-5, 2-2 in league) second place and given the team the final automatic playoff berth from the league. But now Bell-Jeff has to wait until the conclusion of two other league games Friday night to see if a coin flip is needed to determine which squad will get the No. 2 spot behind Salesian.
“We could have taken care of it with the win,” Bell-Jeff first-year Coach David Machuca said. “Now we just have to wait and see.”
The Guards haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2009.
Bell-Jeff — which went winless in league in 2010 and 2011 — came into the game riding a two-game league winning streak after losing its league opener. Those two victories came largely on the shoulders of senior running back Josh Martinez, who tallied 10 touchdowns in consecutive wins against St. Anthony and St. Genevieve.
Martinez had a standout performance against St. Monica (5-4, 2-2), carrying the ball 30 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
“We knew they were going to run him a lot,” St. Monica Coach Adam Guerra said. “I just give a lot of credit to Bell-Jeff for the way that they played. They have a first-year coach over their and he’s done a great job at turning that team around.”
While Martinez was pacing the running game, the Bell-Jeff passing game sputtered. The Guards have been without starting quarterback Johnathan Porter, who broke his hand five games into the season. Against St. Monica, Bell-Jeff was three for eight for two yards and an interception in the passing department.
“That was a big blow when we lost Johnathan,” Machuca said. “In the first five games he passed for nearly 1,000 yards. With him we are definitely more balanced because we can throw the ball and there’s a lot more for opposing teams to have to prepare for.”
The Mariners kept the ball on the ground and enjoyed a great deal of success. Running back Kevin Holubowsky had 17 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns and his counterpart, Nick Pegnato, carried the ball 22 times for 107 yards and one score.
After a scoreless first quarter, Pegnato scored mid-way through the second. Bell-Jeff came back and Martinez found the end zone on a nine-yard run with 4:24 left. The Guards went for a two-point conversion and were successful, as Martinez made good on a run to put Bell-Jeff ahead, 8-7.
However, it only took the Mariners two plays from scrimmage on their next possession to take a 14-8 advantage with 3:28 left before half.
The Guards were able to counter, though, on their next possession when Martinez scored on the ground from 10 yards out with 10 seconds left. When the extra-point kick missed, the teams went into the break knotted at 14.
In the second half, the Mariners came out and scored on a two-yard scamper by Holubowsky for the winning tally.
Bell-Jeff had just four possessions in the second half and got to the St. Monica 28-yard line before Martinez threw an interception on a half-back option.