BURBANK -- A good start, mixed with mistake-free football was needed for the Bellarmine-Jefferson High football team to stay competitive with Salesian in its Santa Cruz League opener Saturday night, as the Mustangs entered the game ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Northeast Division.
The Guards got off to a good start, but it was quickly marred by a miscue on special teams, which gave Mustangs standout quarterback Jihad Vercher the ball in good scoring position. Salesian quickly scored and never looked back, as it simply proved too much for Bell-Jeff to match up against in a 48-0 victory at Memorial Field.
Bell-Jeff (2-5, 0-1 in league) came out and held Salesian's offense in check, forcing a punt on the first drive of the game, but the Guards didn't even got off a snap on offense, as the punt hit the ground and off a Guards player. The Mustangs quickly jumped on the loose ball to take possession 10 yards away from a score.
“We did get some momentum, but we have to minimize our mistakes to get better and that's what we're working on trying to do every week,” first-year Bell-Jeff Coach David Machuca said.
Salesian scored on the very next play when Vercher hit a wide-open Blaise Booth (two catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns) with a touchdown pass for a 6-0 lead with 8:17 left in the first quarter. Vercher and the Mustangs came as advertised, as the senior quarterback scored four touchdowns on the night (three passing, one rushing) and completed nine of 12 passes for 230 yards.
The Guards, on the other hand, were without their starting quarterback Johnathan Porter, who dislocating his hand last week in the loss to Malibu, and running back Josh Martinez with injuries.
“It's pretty tough to go up against a team like that when your two biggest offensive weapons are out of the game,” said Machuca, who rotated freshman Jonathan Gales and senior Mitch Kellogg at quarterback. “I thought Jonathan Gales came out as a freshman to start in his first game and I thought he played well. We're young and we're going to keep developing and get ready for St. Anthony's next Saturday.”
Bell-Jeff got its biggest offensive contribution from senior running Micheal Gomez, who ran for 94 yards in 17 carries with his longest run of the night going for 30 yards.
The Mustangs silenced the Guards offense for the most part, forcing three turnovers in the game. They turned a Bell-Jeff fumble into a touchdown when Salesian's Jermaine Kelly scooped up the ball and returned it 23 yards for the score and a 13-0 lead with less than a minute to go in the first quarter.
Salesian (5-1, 2-0) had a 27-0 lead by halftime when Vercher connected with Booth again for a 34-yard touchdown pass. Vercher added his third touchdown of the half when he scrambled out of the pocket and leaped in between two Bell-Jeff defenders and into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run.
A running clock began about two minutes into the fourth quarter when Salesian running back Adrian Escobar took a screen pass and broke it for a 90-yard touchdown, which gave the Mustangs a 41-0 lead after Rodney Carr had a four-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Jamardre Cobb capped the scoring for a Salesian with a 26-yard scoring run with two minutes left in the game.
Things won't get too much easier for Bell-Jeff next Saturday when it hosts St. Anthony, which is ranked No. 7 in the Northeast Division, for its homecoming game at Memorial Field. Machuca does expect to have Martinez and Porter back in the fold.
“Hopefully we get Porter and Joshua back for homecoming next Saturday,” he said. “I expect them back next Saturday.”