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Martin Diaz did what his coach had instructed him to do. As a result, the Santa Maria linebacker made the defensive play of the game.

With San Marcos driving toward a potential winning touchdown, Diaz knocked the ball away from Royals running back Henry Herrera. Sammy Benitez recovered the ball for the Saints at the Santa Maria 33, and the Saints hung on for a 33-29 cross-section win at their Ralph Baldiviez Stadium Friday night.

"I just squeezed (Herrera)," Diaz said afterward.

"That's what coach (Dan Ellington) tells us to do. 'Squeeze 'em hard.'"

Both teams are 1-1.

San Marcos is not the San Marcos of years past. The Royals are much improved, and Diaz said, "We figured we were in for a close one."

A close one it was. Santa Maria's Sammy Herrera lunged over from the San Marcos 2, the ball just touching the goal line, for the winning score with 4:45 left.

Sammy Herrera scored three times. After the Saints stopped a Royals drive on the first possession of the game, Herrera took the ball 85 yards around left end for a score on Santa Maria's first play from scrimmage.

Later in the first half, Herrera hauled in a Dominick Martinez pass and scampered in to complete a 63-yard scoring play.

Henry Herrera ran for 168 yards and two scores, and San Marcos quarterback Ben Partee threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints gave up 401 yards of offense, but their defense made some big plays.

The unit also scored. Partee, under a heavy rush, threw the ball right to Santa Maria cornerback Jovanny Garcia, and Garcia ran 20 yards with it for a first-half score.

Julius Booker stopped Partee on a fourth-and-goal from the 5 near the close of the first half, and the Saints led 20-14 at the break. With the Royals trying to mount a late-ditch rally, Fabian Montano helped sack Partee, the Saints' first sack of the game.

That brought up fourth down from the Royals 21. Partee's subsequent pass fell incomplete, and that was it.

The Saints had all the momentum after Martinez scored from 30 yards out on the first second half possession, and the Saints defense forced the first Royals punt of the game.

The Royals grabbed the momentum back after a defender stripped the ball from Sammie Herrera, and Partee hit Josh Brown for a 31-yard touchdown pass on the next play.

San Marcos went back ahead when Henry Herrera went in from five yards out with 8:20 left. However, Sammy Herrera ultimately scored the game winner for the fourth lead change of the game.

Sammy Herrera ran for 161 yards. Martinez threw for 141. Santa Maria will play at Santa Ynez at 7 p.m. next Friday night in its road opener. 

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.