BURBANK — With the opening of Santa Fe league play for the Bellarmine-Jefferson football program at hand, its six-week road to the opener had been a tumultuous one, including four cancellations, a forfeit, an abbreviated road loss and shutout loss at home.
After being forced to cancel last week’s game, the Guards opened Santa Fe play against St. Monica Saturday night at Memorial Field.
It lost the game, 36-0, and incurred several injuries to the players it had suited up at kickoff.
“We started with 13 tonight and the kids that played, all of them, played as hard as they could,” first-year Bell-Jeff Coach Lance Fauria said. “As a staff and as a school, we are extremely proud of them.”
Bell-Jeff (0-4, 0-1) was down 21-0 after the first quarter. St. Monica, which had 39 players in pads, scored on its fourth play by way of a one-yard run by Charles Heard, then again five plays later on a 49-yard interception return by David Araujo and later in the quarter on a five-yard run by Jack Cain, which came one play after a high snap on a Guards punt attempt gave the Mariners (3-4, 1-0) the ball in prime position to score.
“It’s two Catholic schools and sometimes another Catholic school needs a helping hand,” said Mariner Coach Adam Guerra, who called up numerous underclassmen. “We came out and played good. They’ve got to get better and some of our young players got to get better.”
The Guards did catch a break late in the first when they got off a punt that was muffed by the Mariners. Bell-Jeff’s AJ Navarro recovered it, but the Guards were unable to get a first down, sending Devoughn Roberts back into punt formation.
That snap sailed over the head of Roberts, who retrieved it and tried to make a play before he was sandwiched by two Mariners for a 25-yard loss. He would not return to the field.
St. Monica scored two plays later to make it 28-0 early 10:39 left in the second quarter, which led the officials to start a running clock.
On the ensuing possession, the Guards gained a couple first downs before losing another skill player. Miles Hopkins, who had just returned to the field after suffering a concussion during his team’s Sept. 21 loss to Chadwick, took off on an exciting run in which the senior cut one way before switching fields to gain seven yards.
Hopkins, however, stayed down on the ground before gingerly leaving the field. At halftime, the paramedics were summoned and Hopkins left via ambulance to address what appeared to be a neck or head injury.
“We lost Devoughn Roberts and Miles Hopkins, two of our yard generators really,” Fauria said. “Losing those two guys was hard. I don’t know what their status is.”
The second half was played with a nonstop clock, even during injuries, as things continued to crumble for the Guards, despite spirited and gritty efforts. Navarro (three catches for 30 yards) had a 15-yard catch on his team’s first play of the third quarter, but lost a fumble stretching for extra yards.
During the following St. Monica drive that ended in a touchdown, Bell-Jeff’s Isaac Etter, who played in his first game since becoming eligible after a transfer from Maranatha, suffered an injury making a tackle and came off the field. Bell-Jeff finished the defensive series with 10 players.
Etter returned in the next series with a wrapped right hand. He’d started at quarterback and completed his first three passes, before his fifth was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
“From the beginning, we knew St. Monica was going to have more players than us, so we were prepared,” Etter said. “I’m proud of our team. We came out and we played hard. We played our best.”
Navarro went down early in the fourth quarter but quickly returned. Later in the quarter, Bell-Jeff freshman Jeffrey Cuevas astutely pounced on a Mariners fumble. The Guards’ next snap sailed high and rolled out of the end zone for a safety and the only points of the final quarter.
“Small schools can get it going and go from there,” a sympathetic Guerra said. “I hope their injured come back as fast as possible.”
With a bye, Bellarmine-Jefferson will not play next week. The Guards are slated to play Salesian the following week, which is ranked No. 6 in the division.
“We’ve got a bye week,” Fauria said. “I don’t know what is going to happen. We’re just going to have to wait and see.”