Exactly eight months after losing to Narbonne in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Div. 1 semi-finals, the El Camino Real Conquistadores were again defeated on the road by top-70 team dawning green and gold. The Conquistadores fell to the Saint Bonaventure Seraphs, 26-10, at Ventura College on Friday, Aug. 25 to open their season.
Early on, El Camino seemed fully in control. The defense was able to stop three of the four passes from being caught, with the one catch being a screen that lost the Seraphs two yards. Upon receiving the punt, it only took two plays to get to the end zone. After a two-yard run from running back Jake Sebeck, senior Stav Graziani connected with senior Tyjai Fulford 20 yards down the middle of the field and Fulford doing the rest, cutting to the far sideline and running it all the way into the endzone for a 69-yard touchdown reception.
That, however, would be the only touchdown El Camino would score all night, with their only other score coming via a field goal on the very next drive from 26 yards out by kicker Jake Amigo. The defense recovered a kickoff that landed at the 23, but was unable to inside the red zone, and the 31-yard field goal attempt by Amigo was blocked. A lot of the offense came in the first half for the Conquistadores, with Graziani going 10 of 19 with just over 200 yards and touchdown in the first half and only 4 of 9 in the second.
“The offense stalled when it came to the run game this week,” senior guard Jared Anderson said “Next week we really or going to pound the rock to spark the offense.”
El Camino led the Seraphs 10-0 after the first quarter, but two rushing touchdowns by quarterback Kai Rojas, 13 and 15 yards, to bring the score to 10-6 and then to take a 13-10 lead, which they never relinquished.
Graziani finished with 261 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, a solid showing for a team missing one of its top targets from last season, All-City tight end Jake Bradley. Graziani spread the ball around well on the night, throwing to six different receivers, but his top wideouts were juniors Kobe White and Dupree Fuller.
“Me and my fellow receivers did very well,” said Fuller, “We ran our routes very crisply and we blocked when needed.”
White was targeted seven times on the night, making five catches for 100 yards, including a 39-yard grab in the second quarter and a 29-yard catch in double coverage as the team tried to start its comeback with less than seven minutes left in the game. Fuller was targeted five times, making three catches for 8,17, and 19 yards all in the first half. Senior receiver Michael Brown also had three catches on five targets, with two of three catches going for 10 plus yards.
While El Camino had less than 50 yards on the ground, the Seraphs offense was carried squarely on the shoulders of the running game, which was responsible for all of their touchdowns. Running back Ramon Saldana scored once in the third quarter and Rojas scored three times, the last run coming in the third quarter from the 28 yard-line, kept the Conquistadores on their toes all night, with the passing game was shut down early by strong play from El Camino’s defensive backs.
The pair of juniors were able to consistently make the first and second defenders miss and Saldana, while only listed at 5-feet 4-inches, was able to plow through most open-field attempts to bring him down.
“I feel if we fill our gaps correctly and fly downhill we can definitely stop the run,” said linebacker Ryan Costa, who along with Darian Green who led the team with 11 tackles, was a key contributor to the defense with a blocked PAT and 7 tackles.
When Rojas did throw, nearly all of the targets went to junior receiver Jacob Basua, generally on slants and curls to in early down situations. Rojas finished the game with three rushing touchdowns on 14 carries, and completed 9 of 20 pass attempts.
Saint Bonaventure had exactly 50 rushing attempts on the day out of 70 total plays. El Camino only ran 50 plays, with 17 rushes and 31 pass attempts.
The Conquistador’s pass-heavy offense used on Friday was foreshadowed in the preseason. On Aug. 18 the team took on Palisades in a friendly scrimmage that nearly ended half way through with a fight that centered around an El Camino defensive player sacking the Dolphins quarterback despite his “no-contact” jersey. In that game, the Conquistadores mainly ran the offense through the air, with runs only coming on early downs and on the goalline.
The game was a big one for all of the seniors on the team, as it marked the beginning of the end for their high school careers. Playing his first game as a senior was “bittersweet” for Anderson.
“I had so much fun because I love the game, but it was also upsetting because it was my last first game,” the four-year veteran said.
Next week, El Camino will come back home, hosting the Venice Gondoliers on Thursday, Aug. 31. Last season, the Conquistadores handled Venice on the road, 34-32, helped largely in part by an interception in the endzone by Jeremy Hawkins, and by strong rushing performances from Matt Thume, Ladell Atkins and Cornelius Hawkins. This battle with the Gondoliers may involve a different gameplan, as El Camino only threw for 76 of their 400 plus yards in that victory.
“Playing at home will be a huge advantage for us” Fuller said, “We are very hungry to bounce back and get our first win of the season.”