With its win over Morro Bay on Oct. 20, Santa Maria's football team ended a 16-year drought. 

The 40-19 homecoming win clinched a postseason berth for Santa Maria, its first since 2001.

The Saints' 41-25 win over Nipomo last Friday night gave them their first league championship since 1988.

They will attempt to end another drought Friday.

Santa Maria hasn't won a playoff game in about 23 years. The Saints can end that drought with a win over Carpinteria in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 12 playoffs Friday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. inside Ralph Baldiviez Stadium at Dave Boyd Field.

The Saints won the Northern League championship in 1988 and advanced to the CIF finals that year, losing at San Marino 19-11.

The Saints clinched a postseason berth with a 20-12 victory over rival Righetti on Nov. 11, 1994, making the postseason with a 1-9 record. With Frank Bentz coaching, they then toppled top-seeded Culver City 33-29 in the first round of the Division VII playoffs a week later, completing one of the biggest upsets in Southern Section history at the time.

The Saints didn't make the postseason again until 2001, which is also the last time Santa Maria qualified for the playoffs.

The Saints finished that season with a 5-6 record under coach Jim Doyle. Chuy Frausto ran the offense at quarterback and Pete Gonzalez was the featured running back. The Saints stunned Lompoc 20-14 in the regular-season finale to clinch a playoff bid, with Josh Liendo's late fumble return for a touchdown the decisive play.

Strangely enough, Andrew Jones was Lompoc's quarterback that night and was sacked by Santa Maria cornerback Robert Esquivel to force the fumble returned by Liendo. Jones is now Lompoc's head coach, leading the undefeated powerhouse Braves into their playoff game against Camarillo this week.

After that victory over Lompoc in 2001, Santa Maria traveled to play Thousand Oaks in the first round of the Division IV playoffs. Thousand Oaks featured five-star quarterback Ben Olson, who went on to play at BYU and UCLA. The Lancers beat the Saints 55-28, ultimately ending their historic season. 

Santa Maria has been a CIF runner-up several times: 1927, 1972, 1984 and 1988. The 1972 Saints lost to Los Altos by a point, 16-15, in the CIF AAA title game, playing in the section's highest division.

The current Saints are well aware of the history that lies behind them. But they spent their early-week practices focused on what's in front of them. 

"We knew it's been a long time since there was a league title at this school," said Santa Maria quarterback Blake Truhitte. "But it's Monday. We've got to to start preparing for Carp. And that's what we're doing right now."

Dan Ellington, Santa Maria's coach, did take a moment to relish the league championship.

"I'm so proud of the guys. We pretty much took it in Friday night after the game," Ellington said. "Saturday morning I gave everybody the day off and kind of soaked the moment in and enjoyed it. But, honestly, today we're getting ready for the playoffs. We all understand that accomplishment and it's something that we can take with us for the rest of our lives. We're all excited and it's huge. 

"It's kind of a boost for the community, hopefully. The alumni are pretty exciting and the kid sare excited on campus."

Truhitte is, perhaps, the most valuable player on the Central Coast. The senior has accounted for nearly 67 percent of Santa Maria's offense. He's thrown for 1,686 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, accounting for all but 12 of Santa Maria's passing yards.

He's been just as productive on the ground. Truhitte leads Santa Maria with 1,319 rushing yards on 149 carries with 18 touchdowns.

The Saints' rushing attack has been formidable this year. Santa Maria has 2,812 yards as a team on 421 carries with 31 touchdowns. 

They did all that without Isiah Garcia, Santa Maria's star running back who went out with a torn ACL early in the season.

Bobby Ruiz has filled in admirably. The senior has 737 rushing yards on 112 carries with seven touchdowns. 

Jonathan Ramos has been Truhitte's favorite receiving target. The 6-foot-3 senior has 30 catches for 702 yard and seven touchdowns. Ramos missed most of last season with a major knee injury.

"It feels amazing knowing we got the league championship. We were down and came back in that Nipomo game," Ramos said. "It's a great feeling, but now we've got to work to play Carpinteria."

The Saints erased a 19-0 deficit to beat Nipomo last week. 

Frank Lopez and Gerardo Zul have led the defense. Lopez has a team-high 89 tackles on the season, 62 of those solo. Zul has 16 tackles for loss and 59 total tackles. Zul has 15 sacks on the season. Gabriel Bravo has also done well to get after the quarterback with 11 sacks on the year. 

Ramos also has four interceptions on defense and has blocked three field goals. 

Carpinteria is 6-4 on the season. The Warriors went 2-1 in the Frontier League. They've allowed 301 points in 10 games this year while scoring just 245. Santa Maria has scored 350 points this year while giving up 276. 

Ellington did feel the Saints were given a lower seed than he expected. Santa Maria is seeded eighth in the division; Carpinteria is ninth. The winner of Friday's game will likely face top-seedded Schurr (9-1) in the quarterfinals.

Santa Maria and Carpinteria have faced several common opponents.

Santa Ynez defeated Carpinteria 63-0 on Sept. 1. Santa Ynez defeated Santa Maria 49-12 on Sept. 29. The Saints beat Morro Bay 40-19 in a Northern League game on Oct. 20. Carpinteria defeated Morro Bay 27-10 on Sept. 8. The two teams have also played Calabasas Viewpoint. Santa Maria won that game 47-14 on Oct. 27, while the Warriors defeated Viewpoint 17-2 on Sept. 22. 

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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Sports Editor

Alumni Fresno State