The Santa Maria football team's season hadn't been going well.

The Saints had just taken their third straight loss, 49-12 at Santa Ynez in their last non-league game of the year and had dropped to 2-4.

Then came their bye week, and the banged up Saints healed in more ways than one.

A lot of their injured players became healthy, the Saints went on to win the Northern League and they didn't lose again until Big Bear, and the Bears' triple option offense, beat them 37-23 in the CIF Southern Section Division 12 championship game on Dec. 2 in front of an overflow crowd at Santa Maria's Ralph Baldivez Stadium.

Besides many of their many injured players healing up, the Saints got their inside running game going and their defense came on strong as the season went along.

The appearance in a divisional title game was the first for a Santa Maria football team since 1986. The Saints finished 9-5. Their run is the No. 2 sports story on the Lee Central Coast Newspapers' Top 10.

The LCCN sports staff selected the stories.

Santa Maria's Dan Ellington was the repeat LCCN All-Area Football Team Coach of the Year. His guidance, along with that of an able group of veteran assistants, helped the Saints to their big year which included a 42-21 upset of top seed Montebello Schurr at Santa Maria in the quarterfinals.

Ellington is a teacher at Santa Maria, and he told the Times after one practice during the playoffs that much of his communication with his players had to do with what he learned by communicating with students in the classroom.

"I used to think that by yelling more, it would help the players," Ellington said. "I learned that wasn't true. If someone isn't succeeding, you try to get them to show you what it is that they need for you to help them succeed."   

The Saints' quarterback, senior Blake Truhitte, was the Times' All-Area MVP. Truhitte threw for 2,348 yards and 25 touchdowns. He ran for 2,026 yards and 31 scores.

He also moved into the defensive lineup, in the secondary, when the Saints were hit with injuries there. Truhitte was also Santa Maria's punter.

The Zul twins, Gerardo and Jesus, have indicated that they are not sure if they will play anymore football. If 2017 was it for their football playing days, their last year of football was a big one.

Gerardo was Santa Maria's best pass rusher. Jesus was an integral part of a productive offensive line.

Robert Ruiz ran for 1,094 yards. Jonathan Ramos had 1,076 yards, and nine touchdowns, in receptions. Both were also important players on defense, Ruiz at linebacker and Ramos in the secondary.

John Rojas came on strong as a secondary receiver, and he was also a solid linebacker.

Santa Maria beat Carpinteria 56-28 in the first round of the playoffs. In the quarterfinals, the Saints scored the first 14 points, saw Schurr score the next 21 and then scored the last 28 themselves.

Santa Maria won handily in the semifinals, 35-14 at South El Monte. The Saints simply couldn't make enough stops against the Big Bear triple option in the Division 12 championship game.

"The bottom line is, we didn't do enough on defense to win," Ellington said.

Still, the run this senior-laden team made captivated the Santa Maria football community and is likely to be remembered by many for a long time.

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Sports Reporter