May 17, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

When faced with challenges, Sunny Hills showed resiliency to reach Division 8 final

11/27/19: The efficient Sunny Hills offense is led by senior multi-year starters, from left, Luke Duxbury (1,898 yards, 20 TDs passing(, Jun Ahn (1,690 yards rushing, 26 TDs) and receiver Wilson Cal (62 catches, 927 yards, 5 TDs receiving).

The efficient Sunny Hills offense is led by senior multi-year starters, from left, Luke Duxbury (1,898 yards, 20 TDs passing (Jun Ahn (1,690 yards rushing, 26 TDs) and receiver Wilson Cal (62 catches, 927 yards, five TDs receiving). (Photos courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone)

In a game typically defined by its physicality, it is often the mental frame of mind that determines the success or failure of a football team.

That theory certainly would apply to an undersized but resilient Sunny Hills High team that will battle Santa Barbara High School Saturday night at 7 at San Marcos High in Santa Barbara for the CIF Division 8 title.

To see the slide show, please click on the first photo

The teams have a lot in common. Santa Barbara (11-2) hadn’t won a playoff game in 30 seasons when it rolled paast Gahr 44-0 in the first round of this year’s playoffs. Sunny Hills hadn’t won a playoff game in 24 years when it rallied for 14 fourth-quarter points to edge Tustin 21-14in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.

Since the first-round win, Santa Barbara has clubbed Palm Desert 42-32 and Palmdale 37-15. Top-seeded Sunny Hills pulled away from Notre Dame Riverside in the second round before recording a memorable 31-27 win over Trabuco Hills in the semifinals.

In Lancer Lore, the Trabuco Hills win will forever be discussed. Statistically, Trabuco Hills dominated the game, running 90 offensive plays to Sunny Hills’ 33. Time of possession was 33:38-14:22. It was like watching a Rocky movie.

But each time the Lancers appeared done, they’d make a big play, thwarting a Trabuco drive with a key tackle, or interception. And quarterback Luke Duxbury would pick them up. Duxbury completed only eight passes, but three of them went for touchdowns to Vince Silva (90, 32, 47), the game winner, 47 yards, coming with 3:10 to play.

In the win, the Lancer defense recorded an astounding 127 tackles, including double digit stops by Carson Irons (20), Brandon Roberts (17) Vince Silva (16), Kevin Hu (12), Lathruum Kenny (13) and Martino Austin (11). Irons and Austin intercepted passes.

Even then, the game wasn’t resolved until Carson Irons intercepted a Mustang pass at the 1 with seven seconds to play.

Sunny Hills Coach Pete Karavedas knows the Lancers’ secret. 

“These kids are a family,” he explains. “When someone makes a mistake, they don’t criticize, they say, ‘we’ve got your back.’ They support each other.”

The other part of the mental game that has influenced the Lancers this season is the willingness to strive for greatness.

“We knew we would have a good team this year,” Karavedas said. “We had a lot of kids back from teams that had been 8-3 and close to a win in the playoffs, but it was up to the kids to decide if good was enough.

“In the weight room, we told them that they had lifted enough to be good but five more pounds could make them great …. 20 more minutes watching film could make them great. They were willing to put in the extra effort.”

This week has been an interesting one for the Lancers, who began the season with a goal of “Playing 14.” They’ve reached that goal, now the target is winning the 14th.

That will be a challenge. The Dons are led by junior quarterback Deacon Hill, a 6-4, 225-pound junior and Wisconsin-commit who is a master of the spread offense.

“He’s very good,” says Karavedas. ”But they also have an athletic, active defense that flies all over the field.”

The Sunny Hills offense is led by three experienced senior players in quarterback Luke Duxbury, a three-year-starter who, in his career, has completed 333 passes for 5,098 yards and 49 touchdowns; receiver Wilson Cal, 112 career receptions, 1,661 yards, 14 TDs and running back Jun Ahn, who, in two seasons, has rushed for 3,177 yards and 43 TDs.

The offense has been aided this season by two big play standouts, Roberts, who, in seven games, has amassed 826 combined rushing a receiving yards and scored 10 times, and Silva, a starting linebacker, who has 952 yards rushing and receiving  and scored 14 times.

The Lancer defense is built around a junior linebacking corp of Noah Brown, Hu, Irons and Silva, who have combined for 405 tackles. Among the many two-way players for the Lancers are Silva, Ahn, Roberts and Cal.

RELATED: Lancers’ coach challenged his players to be great

Story courtesy Jim McCormack for OC Sports Zone