Bell-Jeff football lets down its guard against Malibu

MALIBU — Over the course of its first five games of the season, the Bellarmine-Jefferson football team has been in more than a couple of high-scoring shootouts.

The Guards have had enough firepower to win a couple of them, including last week’s one-point win over Pasadena Poly in which both team combined for 99 points, but on Friday, Bell-Jeff’s defensive vulnerabilities caught up with it.

Despite scoring four touchdowns, the Guards’ offense fizzled with four turnovers and their defense was unable to pick up any of the slack against host Malibu, which established a new school scoring record at Bell-Jeff’s expense in a 58-40 nonleague loss.

“The defense didn’t get a break, the offense created I think 28 points on turnovers and we lost by 18 — that’s indicative of the game,” said Guards Coach David Machuca, whose team has yielded 49 or more points four times this season with Saturday’s 58 a season-high. “The defense has to understand that they can’t rely on the offense to keep putting up 40 or 50 points. It’s just not going to happen; you can’t win games like that.”

Two of Bell-Jeff’s turnovers happened on their first two possessions of the game, with quarterback Johnathan Porter getting intercepted on the first play of the game and running back Josh Martinez (148 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 15 carries) coughing up a fumble three plays into the Guards’ next drive.

Both giveaways set up the Sharks in Bell-Jeff territory and they scored points off each to lead, 13-0, after running back Matt Vincent finished off Malibu’s first possession with a four-yard push and quarterback Chase Gardella accounted for the second score with a two-yard sneak at the 6:07 mark of the first quarter.

“It definitely affected us,” Martinez said of the disastrous start. “It changed the momentum, it changed how our mindset was. That’s what got us, the turnovers.”

Bell-Jeff bounced back nicely when Martinez rushed for a one-yard touchdown with 2:39 left in the first to cap a short 39-yard drive, on which he carried the ball six times for 26 yards after ripping off a 43-yard kickoff return. The Guards (2-4) even took the lead briefly when Jonathan Gales intercepted Gardella at the Bell-Jeff 40-yard line and returned it for a touchdown and a 16-13 lead with 14 seconds left in the first.

But for the rest of the contest, the Guards simply could not keep the Sharks’ offense at bay.

After the teams traded punts, Malibu (4-2) got back on top via a 54-yard drive on which it converted on third down three times, including for the go-ahead touchdown pass from Gardella to a wide open Anthony Kodomichalos from seven yards out with 6:01 to go in the second quarter.

Stopping the Sharks on third down or worse proved to be nearly impossible for Bell-Jeff all afternoon, as Malibu was nine for 13 on third-down conversions and two of three on fourth down, including a devastating 52-yard touchdown toss from Gardella to Brennan Cassone on fourth and seven with 1:32 left in the first half.

Malibu further took control by scoring on its first two possessions of the third quarter, on a 25-yard Gardella-to-Cassone touchdown pass on its 53-yard opening drive and a 12-yard scoring run by Vincent at the 6:03 mark to cap a short 23-yard drive set up when a pitch from Porter to Martinez ended up on the ground and in the Sharks’ hands.

In the second half, the Guards did flash some of the playmaking ability that has allowed them to score an average of 39.8 points per game. With 5:38 left in the third, Jalen Henry caught a short slant from Porter and stretched it into a 53-yard gain for a touchdown to cut the lead to 41-24. Then, trailing, 44-24, with 8:14 left in the fourth, Martinez found a seam up the middle and went 86 yards for a touchdown to make it a two-score game again.

But the dagger would come less than a minute later when the plodding Vincent (147 yards in 27 carries), who had made a living running the counter all day switched it up and took off around the right end for a 57-yard touchdown run.

“It was extremely frustrating, but it was a team effort,” Martinez said. “We take the loss as everyone, not just one person. We should have played better. We could have played better.

“We need to practice hard and give it all we’ve got and get ready for Salesian [next week].”

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