BURBANK — It has been a challenging season so far for the Bellarmine-Jefferson High football program, as the Guards continue to struggle with a low turnout of players and a general lack of experience. It began with three canceled games, with one going down as a forfeit, and then, after finally taking the field, a stumble resulting in lopsided defeat against a high-ranking inter-division opponent that was called in the middle of the fourth quarter by first-year coach Lance Fauria.
However, in their home opener Saturday night at Memorial Field, the Guards had an opportunity for the first time to get their feet solidly on the ground, taking on an opponent in Campbell Hall that had also lost games to forfeit and cancellation this season.
In the battle of struggling programs, it was the Vikings who came out on top, 28-0, and garnered their first victory of the campaign, but Bellarmine-Jefferson took steps forward, as this time they competed from the opening kickoff until the final whistle with the clock reading all zeros.
“We were able to play a full game,” Fauria said. “It was close, though. The thing is with 13 players [suited up] the kids played as hard as they could.”
Bell-Jeff (0-3) was to have played Pasadena Poly on Thursday, but instead rescheduled to face the Vikings, who two weeks ago canceled their game against that same Poly squad. Campbell Hall was to have played Brentwood, but instead swapped opposition with the Guards for a more even match-up.
“I think it was a good game for both of us as opposed to playing the other two teams we were going to play,” Fauria said. “I think we got something out of this.”
Campbell Hall (1-3) pulled out ahead with two one-yard touchdown runs by quarterback Nick Friedich on its first two possessions. The first came on the Vikings’ third snap on offense and the second was set up by a 41-yard reception by one of actor James Caan’s sons, Jimmy.
The Vikings’ third possession saw the Guards defense spring to life. Bell-Jeff’s Max Belsito led the way with sacks on consecutive plays. Campbell Hall would not score again before the break.
“A lot of our players haven’t played before, so this was their first full game,” Belsito said.
On the first snap of the second half, the Bell-Jeff defense stiffened again when Guard Daniel Miranda stripped Oliver Heffron after a long run and the home team recovered. The visitors did add two more touchdowns later in the third quarter on a 20-yard pass from Friedich to Heffron and a two-yard run by Ricardo Centeno.
Bell-Jeff simplified its offense and concentrated on the run game, working a majority of the time with no-receiver sets. Fullback Brandon Gooden led the way with 28 yards on nine carries. Devoughn Roberts, who played quarterback in the first half and tailback in the second, had 17 carries for 27 yards. AJ Navarro ran seven times for 13 yards and played quarterback the second half, attempting the Guards’ only pass, which fell incomplete.
“We were playing our starters,” said Vikings Coach Scott Napier, who gave the Guards some encouragement after the game. “I went over and told them I respect the heck out of them. They just need to believe in themselves and believe in the coach and things are going to work. We’re kind of in the same boat.”
Throughout the contest, the game clock was allowed to run liberally in between the action on the field, including after some incomplete passes. Then late in the third quarter after a Viking player broke his leg and was taken away by ambulance, the running clock became official and no more points were scored.
“Each time [we’re] going to get a little better and learn a little bit more,” Fauria, whose team will play Santa Clarita Christian next week, said. “They’re seeing the physicality of the game now.”