HUNTINGTON BEACH — Ray Fenton preached to his Fountain Valley High football team the value of lessons learned late Friday.
The first-year coach of the Barons urged his players to take his postgame words to heart, hoping that they would draw upon their experience, although tough to do so just coming off a close defeat, to make progress in the coming weeks.
Fountain Valley and Trabuco Hills were locked in a nonleague battle at Huntington Beach High's Cap Sheue Field that wasn't decided until the final minute. The Barons were on the march looking to catch Trabuco late in the fourth quarter, but a fumble in Mustangs territory ended any comeback hope.
In a meeting between teams that both entered the game 2-0, it was the visiting Mustangs who remained undefeated by holding on for a 24-17 victory.
Fountain Valley had battled back from deficits of 14-3 and 17-10 to pull even with the Mustangs through three quarters. The Barons trailed, 24-17, with 7:40 left in the game after Trabuco quarterback Tommy Kelley and receiver Jacob Breeland hooked up on a 57-yard scoring pass on a third-and-12 play. They responded by marching from their own 25-yard line down to the Trabuco 26.
The drive was kept alive when quarterback Scott Schultz faked an inside handoff and took off around right end for a five-yard gain on fourth-and-inches. Two plays later, though, a late pitch from Schultz intended to reach running back Isaiah Davis was low and hit the ground. Trabuco defensive end Daniel Ahrenholtz scooped up the loose ball at the 30 and raced 70 yards for an apparent defensive touchdown.
The score was wiped away by an illegal block call against the Mustangs who still retained possession at their own 38 with 4:21 remaining.
The Barons would get the ball back one last time and started on their own 20 with 2:08 on the clock and one time out left, but turned the ball back over on downs with 55 seconds left.
"That's an outstanding football team," Fenton said, nodding toward the Trabuco Hills players huddled near midfield after the game. "You don't like to lose, but I thought we grew tonight as a team. We learned that we can play with them. I thought there were more positives than negatives tonight for us."
One positive was that the Barons came back from an 11-point deficit in the second quarter after they had taken a 3-0 lead. Another positive was their defense, which created three turnovers including one just past the midway point of the third quarter that brought the score even.
On a first-down play at the Trabuco 23, Kelley was intercepted by Fountain Valley's Jacob Church, who ran back the pick for a touchdown. Jonah Mack tacked on the extra point and the score was tied, 17-17, with 5:15 left in the quarter.
Church's big return came one play after the Barons had failed on a fake field-goal attempt after holder Travis Hood's pass was broken up at the Trabuco 10. The series began at the Trabuco 34 and was made possible when Barons linebacker Christian Flores recovered a fumble by Kelley.
Trabuco also gambled, and failed, early in the fourth quarter after reaching the Fountain Valley four where the Mustangs faced fourth-and-two. A run by back Noah Thompson was bottled up at the line of scrimmage by free safety Sal Ochoa, and the Barons took over on downs with 10:09 remaining.
Fountain Valley was held in three downs and punted the ball back to the Mustangs. Three plays later, Kelley and Breeland teamed up on the game-winning touchdown pass.
A 34-yard field goal by Mack at the 5:46 mark of the opening quarter gave Fountain Valley its only lead of the game at 3-0. Trabuco went in front, 7-3, on its next possession when running back Jordan Hettinger scored on a three-yard run. Another running back, Chris Reck, had provided the Mustangs with great field position with a 67-yard kickoff return down to the Fountain Valley 30.
On the first play of the second quarter, Kelley hit a streaking Breeland at the Fountain Valley three and the junior strolled into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown pass play and a 14-3 lead. The Barons got right back into the game three minutes later when Hood laid out a perfect pass down the Fountain Valley sideline which receiver Ryan Finley ran under and grabbed at the Trabuco 43. The junior separated himself from defensive back Bret Bohan and raced to a 77-yard touchdown. Mack's point-after brought the Barons to within 14-10 with 8:16 left in the half.
A late drive just before the end of the half by Trabuco ended in a 34-yard field goal by Blake Cuzzupoli with 28 seconds left. The kick gave the Mustangs a 17-10 halftime advantage.
"We had our chances but one thing we need to learn, is to start minimizing our mistakes," Fenton said. "We had opportunities.
"I told our guys that preseason is all about working to get better. The key is to be playing your best during league and in CIF. It's all about getting better now, and I hope we learned something from tonight."
Fountain Valley is back at Cap Sheue Field Thursday against visiting Wilmington Banning at 7 p.m.