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Despite 66-7 loss, Eagles end season on a high note

SOLANA BEACH — The Santa Fe Christian football team never imagined they would end the 2012 season with a 66-7 loss to Modesto Central Catholic in the CIF Division IV state championship bowl, but it had little if anything to do with the lopsided score. 

The Eagles (11-4) were 2-3 going into the second half of their Cinderella season, so they hardly expected to make an appearance — the first for the school — as one of the state’s top 10 teams playing in the Dec. 14 bowl games at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

“We didn’t even think about the state bowl in the beginning,” said coach Nick Ruscetta, who credits those early losses against some of the most talented squads in Southern California for helping his team get to the state championships.

“We played some really good teams,” he said. “Two of those three losses we had a better than good chance to win,” he said. “I don’t think we would have been in the conversation (for bowl consideration) if we hadn’t played some of those teams.”

In the first game of the season back in August, the Eagles took on Capistrano Valley and were up 26-7 at the half and 33-20 going into the fourth quarter, but were defeated down 41-39.

On Sept. 28, the Eagles were only down by 1 point going into the fourth before a 13-8 loss — their last before playing in Carson — against Bishop Diego in San Barbara.

Then they went on a nine-game winning spree. “We had a group of seniors that really rallied together,” Ruscetta said. “Our motto this year was, ‘Never back down,’ and they didn’t.”

Santa Fe Christian has about three dozen players, a small team compared to some of their opponents with 50- to 100-man rosters.

Ruscetta said he lost two key players to injuries earlier in the season and three, including quarterback Hunter Vaccaro, were sidelined before the half in the game against Central Catholic, a school with players recruited by top football colleges, including the University of Oregon.

“But there are no excuses,” Ruscetta said. “Watching the film, we knew it was going to be a hard game. They were definitely the better team that day but our kids fought hard.

“I told them, ‘You have five minutes to cheer or sulk, then you have to celebrate all you guys accomplished this year.”

The Eagles finished first in the North Coast League, were the CIF San Diego Division V and CIF Southern California Division IV winners and made school history with their trip to the state bowl game.

In less than a week, Ruscetta said most of the team had moved on. “I know they gave everything,” he said. “Kids are pretty resilient and these guys have great character. I’m really blessed to be part of that. (Santa Fe Christian) is a tight-knit community and it’s fun to be a part of that with these kids.”