SANTA MONICA —The truth is, it was stranger than fiction.
The Bellarmine-Jefferson High football team traveled to Santa Monica City College Saturday night to take on Santa Fe League rival St. Monica, in what turned out to be a bizarre game that was punctuated by 15 combined turnovers and four total negated by penalties.
St. Monica was able to properly execute just enough impact plays to curb a second-half comeback bid by Bell-Jeff, winning the contest, 16-8.
The game began with a Bell-Jeff turnover on the first play from scrimmage, when quarterback Chris Issakhanian fumbled at the Guards' 15-yard line. It ended in the midst of a furious late-game rally when Micah Shirley was intercepted by St. Monica defensive back Michael Doherty while trying to pass to receiver Kevin Yuenyongsakul.
In between a seemingly endless barrage of penalties, most commonly holding calls by both team's offensive lines, Bell-Jeff committed seven turnovers, while St. Monica racked up eight turnovers.
Had the Guards ever experienced such a peculiar ball game?
"No," Bell-Jeff Coach Rolando Aguirre answered without hesitation.
"I've never been in a game like this before," Shirley said, laughing. "It's wild."
Aguirre said he had not previously lost to St. Monica, and added that Bell-Jeff beat the Mariners, 33-0, a year ago.
The Mariners struck first with a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sam Holguin to receiver Kyle Farber. The scoring play was set up by two personal foul penalties for 30 yards, by Bell-Jeff (2-7, 0-3 in league).
Holguin ran for a touchdown on a keeper from 20 yards out, later in the first quarter, as St. Monica (5-3, 1-1 in league) jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
Holguin rushed eight times for 89 yards. He went 12 of 23 for 161 yards and was intercepted once — by Shirley.
St. Monica running back Sean Martinez ran 13 times for 75 yards. The Mariners lost seven fumbles and had three touchdowns called back by penalties.
With 18 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, Issakhanian was sacked for a safety, which bumped the Mariners' lead to 16-0.
"At the beginning of the game, I thought they were going to beat us, 40-0," said Aguirre.
Five minutes before halftime, Bell-Jeff running back Mario Marquez rushed for a 42-yard touchdown, but the score came back when the referees called running back Robert Guevara for holding.
"That's a stupid call. Those freaking referees killed us today," said Aguirre.
The Guards trailed, 16-0, at halftime, but awakened after being challenged to rise by their coach.
"I called them out at halftime," Aguirre explained. "They came out and started playing some football."
Five minutes into the third quarter, Issakhanian threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Shirley, who broke wide open towards the right side of the end zone. Shirley rushed in the two-point conversion, slicing the St. Monica lead in half.
Issakhanian completed four of 10 passes for 62 yards, but was intercepted four times. He made three catches for 56 yards.
Shirley rushed 14 times for 43 yards and completed five of seven passes for 56 yards.
St. Monica did not threaten to score again until late in the fourth quarter. Holguin passed to receiver Jamal Young, who was met at the two-yard line by Shirley, a free safety on defense.
"He saw me," Shirley recounted. "I saw his eyes get big."
Shirley hit Young, preventing him from diving into the end zone, then managed to rip the ball from his grasp and took off, returning it to the Bell-Jeff 24-yard line.
"When I took it, I cramped up and the guy got me, but I should've scored," said Shirley.
Then, Shirley took over at quarterback and willed the team all the way to the St. Monica 14-yard line. However, Bell-Jeff was flagged for back-to-back holding penalties and a personal foul, which stalled their final drive.
"That probably cost us the game," Shirley said.
But on that drive, Shirley completed two passes to Issakhanian, who slid over to receiver, and he ran the football around the Mariners' defense, before throwing the interception with 56 seconds left.
"I'm proud of Micah," Aguirre said. "He's a fighter, he just doesn't have any support."
Shirley said: "If we had more time, we probably would've won that game."