I’ve always been a proud graduate of Santa Maria High School. 

In my line of work, covering high school sports on the Central Coast, the subject does come up a lot. 

My alma mater is usually one of the first things I bring up when discussing my background. It’s always been prominently displayed in my Twitter profile and probably always will be. 

But this is something else. I’ve never been more proud to call myself a Saint. 

Santa Maria’s run to the championship game of the CIF Southern Section football playoffs is that incredible. 

The Saints will play for the CIF-SS Division 12 title this weekend against Big Bear. The game will be held in Santa Maria, probably on Saturday night at SMHS. 

It’s the first title game appearance for the Saints since 1988. 

Making it this far is a huge accomplishment and, of course, winning that game would be even better. 

But that’s not entirely what makes their story so special. (And there’s a lot more than football going on at SMHS to have Saints beaming with pride). 

You have to spend some time around this team and its coaching staff to really get a feel for this group of Saints. 

Jeff Antenore, Contributor
Santa Maria's John Rojas carries the ball during a CIF Southern Section semifinal game at South El Monte High School last week. Rojas is second on the Saints with six receiving touchdowns on the season. He's also a reliable defender in Santa Maria's secondary. 

Their practices are usually pretty loose in between drills and running plays. But when head coach Dan Ellington and offensive coordinator Matt Andree demand focus from their players, these guys oblige.

At the same time, this team is filled with personality. Receiver John Ramos has shown that throughout this playoff run, especially after he beat three-star recruit Lance Babb for a long touchdown catch and taunted the Schurr star the final 10 yards into the end zone. The Saints went on to knock off the top seed 42-21, thanks in large part to the play of Ramos. 

Sure, some old-school football fans would be against such a showboat display, but that edge is what sets these Saints apart. 

Jeff Antenore, Contributor
Santa Maria fans cheer on the Saints during Friday night's quarterfinal playoff game at South El Monte High School.

When Blake Truhitte scores, which he has done about 30 times this year, he likes to celebrate with his teammates, usually in the form of a flying high five. 

Geraldo Zul and Gabriel Bravo have combined for about 30 sacks this year. They bring that quiet intensity that every team needs. 

Two-way standout Bobby Ruiz is full of personality as well, usually imitating his favorite rapper’s lyrics during practice or in the form of a boast on Twitter, proud of the fact his Saints are the last team in the area standing. 

These guys should be proud. With their comeback win over Nipomo they clinched the school’s first league title in football since 1988 and ended the playoff drought that started after the 2001 season. Their first-round win over Carpinteria ended a playoff winless streak that started after the 1994 team knocked off top-ranked Culver City. 

This team is on a seven-game win streak. It used to take a few years for a Santa Maria team to win seven games. This group has won seven in seven weeks. 

But, still, that’s not all us Saints are proud of. 

Jeff Antenore, Contributor
Santa Maria players run onto the field before the start of their CIF Southern Section Division 12 semifinals game against South El Monte on Friday. The Saints will run onto their own field Saturday night in the championship game of the Division 12 playoffs against Big Bear.

A lot of these guys were on the baseball team that won the CIFSS Division 6 title in the spring. 

Ruiz was a key contributor on that club. So was Philip Becerra, who has been an impact player at tight end.

What’s more is that the Saints have done all this without their second-best player, Isiah Garcia. The senior, who was also a member of the title-winning baseball team, tore his ACL near the start of the season. Devin Erickson, an offensive lineman and another member of the baseball team, has missed most of the year with a knee injury. 

So what you have is an experienced team with an edge that has overcome some serious adversity. 

And a team that all Santa Maria High alumni can be proud of. 

The town is already excited just to see the Saints play for a title. I can’t imagine what it will be like if the Saints win it. 

JEFF ANTENORE, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER
Santa Maria players huddle together before taking the field for their CIF Southern Section Division 12 quarterfinal game against South El Monte on Friday, November 24, 2017. (Photo By Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)

Joe Bailey is the sports editor at Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Contact him with tips and story ideas at jbailey@leecentralcoastnews.com or (805) 739-2239. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jbaileysmsports

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