NORTH HOLLYWOOD — With the score tied and a combined 54 points put up by the Bellarmine-Jefferson High football team and it's Santa Fe League opponent, St. Genevieve, by the end of a shootout first half Friday afternoon, it seemed likely the second half would come down to which team blinked first.
The Guards not only blinked, but took a proverbial nap on both sides of the ball in the third quarter, allowing the Valiants to score three unanswered touchdowns and break the game open en route to a 64-40 win that put a damper on homecoming at Bell-Jeff's home field at North Hollywood High.
"We made mistakes … and they capitalized with 14 points right off the bat," said Guards Coach Rolando Aguirre, whose team turned the ball over three times in the third quarter and five times overall in the second half. "That sort of took the wind out of us."
The back-and-forth nature of the first half actually did continue through the first two series of the third quarter, when the Valiants opened with a three-play, 62-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive capped by a 45-yard scoring run by running back Asah Jefferson only to see Bell-Jeff (3-6, 0-3 in league) answer right back on its first possession of the half.
Guards quarterback Mitch Kellogg, who completed 14 of 27 attempts for 258 yards and three touchdowns, lofted a pass to a streaking Michael Gomez down the left sideline for a 69-yard touchdown. After missing the extra-point attempt, Bell-Jeff trailed, 34-33, but would soon see the game slip away behind a disastrous stretch to end the quarter.
St. Genevieve (6-2, 1-1) marched right back 62 yards in six plays to take a 41-33 lead on running back Anthony Blue's one-yard lunge at the 7:33 mark and got the ball back on the Guards' 20-yard line moments later when Johnny Kassis intercepted Kellogg at the 31 and returned it 11 yards. Two plays later, Blue ran it up the middle for 18 yards to make it 48-33.
Josh Martinez (five carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns) then fumbled away the ensuing kickoff for the Guards giving the Valiants another short shot at the end zone from the 20. The defense held on fourth down to reclaim the ball on Bell-Jeff's own 18, but a fumbled handoff was recovered by St. Genevieve defensive tackle Brian Alvarado, who rumbled 10 yards into the end zone for a 55-33 lead with 3:09 left in the third.
Bell-Jeff gave up 562 total yards in the game, including 492 rushing yards, as Blue (202 yards in 28 carries with two touchdowns), Jefferson (132 yards and three scores in 14 carries) and quarterback Mark Chin (141 yards and a score in nine carries) all broke triple-digits on the ground.
Turnovers aside, the Guards' own offense was effective in stretches, totaling 335 yards on the game, and its defense came up with some key turnovers to keep pace in the see-saw first half.
Bell-Jeff tied the game at 7 with 5:46 left in the opening period on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Kellogg to Ignacio Cabrera on fourth down and took its first lead, 13-7, 1:13 later when Michael Gomez recovered a Valiants fumble and returned it 75 yards for a score.
The Guards then led, 20-13, after Andrew Belsito intercepted Chin and returned it 24 yards to the Valiants' 11, setting up Martinez's rushing touchdown. Bell-Jeff led, 27-19, after Martinez broke off a 71-yard run with 5:11 left, but the Valiants tied it up with a touchdown and two-point conversion inside the final 25 seconds of the half.
"We came out throwing the football and we did a great job of capitalizing on some mistakes," Aguirre said. "We moved it on them, we went vertical on them, we went short on them and down the middle
"We just have to work on some things. I've got to commend St. Gen's."