Lompoc's Cameron Iribarren runs between Capistrano Valley's James Giles and Josh Chervenka to score the Braves' lone touchdown in a 24-7 loss at Huyck Stadium in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.
For the third straight season, an Orange County representative has eliminated the Braves in the CIF Southern Section football playoffs.
This time it was Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley beating Lompoc 24-7 to open the Division 3 postseason on Friday at Huyck Stadium.
In the last two seasons before Friday’s playoff opener, Lompoc had fallen to Corona del mar (35-34 in 2016) on the road in the semifinal round of the CIF playoffs and lost to El Toro (37-16) in the quarterfinal round last year.
But for this Braves team, the loss also signified this: The first opening-round playoff loss in the Andrew Jones era – plus the first opening-round exit for the Braves in more than two decades.
In the end, Jones liked the tenacity of the Braves, but saw his team eventually showed wear and tear in the end.
“It was a hard-fought match. But obviously, I think we got wore down there. We had too many guys going both ways. We were moving the ball but once we got to their territory, we struggled,” Jones said.
Lompoc went with this game plan: Try to keep the high-powered Cougar offense off the field as much as possible.
Lompoc turned to its two-headed running game monster of Cameron Iribarren and Leondre Coleman to keep Capo Valley’s offensive personnel off the field. Coleman began the game by breaking off a 19-yard run. But the drive eventually stalled on LHS’s first possession.
“We had to pound the rock to keep them off the field,” Jones said. “And if we eliminated any big plays, we had a chance – but we gave up those two big plays in the first half and those killed us.”
Those two plays Jones was referencing were from the Nathan-Manning-to-Jack-Haley connection.
Manning – the Cal baseball commit who had 41 regular season touchdowns and 10 interceptions entering this first-round battle – found Haley on a 44-yard strike for the game’s opening score.
Lompoc went to its run-the-ball, control-the-time approach on the subsequent drive and came away driving down Cougars’ territory.
Iribarren broke loose on two runs for gains of 23 and 10 yards run to pick up two Brave first downs. But on fourth-and-12 and with the field goal unit on the field, the ball sailed above the holder’s head and was stopped near midfield, prompting the turnover on downs.
Capistrano Valley took advantage. Manning rolled to his left and found Haley near the left corner of the end zone for the second big play in the first half; a 27-yard strike that placed the Cougars up 14-0.
The Braves were then without Coleman momentarily. The running back/outside linebacker limped off after a nine-yard run and needed extra tape over his left knee. Coleman eventually returned and rumbled to an 11-yard first down run.
However, the LHS drive ended through the Cougars’ Will Burks, who snatched an end zone lob from Iribarren toward the end of the second half.
Capistrano Valley got a late third quarter touchdown from Dylan Flynn, who took the pitch toward the left side and dove for the pylon – prompting the sideline judge to raise his arms and signal touchdown. That score put the Cougars up 21-0 with 3:18 left in the third.
Iribarren led LHS into Cougars territory on the next drive, gaining 25 yards on the quarterback keeper run. But on the next play, Iribarren was picked off for the second time on the night, this time by Lance Gardner.
Iribarren and Coleman continued to run hard behind the Braves’ offensive line. Early in the fourth, Iribarren evaded the blitz up the gut and scored from nine yards out to give LHS its first score of the night.
Then came a wild turn of events: Lompoc pounced on a Flynn fumble, igniting the LHS fan base. But, Iribarren turned the ball over on what was supposed to be a designed keeper run which was recovered by Jace Hunter.
Jones gave praise to the Cougars after the game.
“Hats off to Capistrano Valley, they’re obviously a well-coached football team,” he said.
Jones also loved the way LHS played all year long in a year the Braves had a younger cast and were placed in a new league.
“Overall, to go from where we started in finding our identity, to tons of people doubting us to still being at or near the top of the Central Coast still means it was a successful year. But, being in this division? My gosh, it’s a gauntlet every week,” Jones said. “We still got a lot to look forward to in the future.”
Iribarren was reflective of both the game and the Braves’ season.
“Just watching film, they were way physical for D3,” Iribarren said. “We needed to execute when the opportunity was there and we couldn’t take it. The fumble by me was on me. I exchanged the snap wrong.
“Honestly, the up part was that we had a strong offensive line that we could run behind – especially with guys like me, Coleman, Nick Dominguez, etc. The downside is that we lose our linemen and we have to battle through it. As a quarterback, I need to have a really good offseason with coach T.J. Jordan. If I improve the passing game, I’ll be set to go next year.”