Tesoro Loses The Battle of the Bell in a Heartbreaker
Updated: Nov 6
In the annual rivalry game, “The Battle of the Bell,” between Tesoro High School and San Juan Hills High School, Tesoro leaves the bell with the opponent in a devastating 24-27 loss. Lasting more than two and a half hours the game ends at 9:35 PM, and the Stallions storm the field while the Titans file out of the Badlands heartbroken. San Juan improves to 7-0, Tesoro falls to 3-3.
The Battle of the Bell is the nickname of the annual football game between Tesoro and San Juan Hills. Despite the relative infancy of both schools (San Juan Hills opened in 2007), the Titan-Stallion rivalry is as heated as they come, largely because half of the students from Ladera Ranch Middle School go to Tesoro and the other half go to San Juan. People from both schools have friends, enemies, and frenemies that go to the other school. Because of this rivalry, the Battle of the Bell is the biggest game of the year for both schools among all sports. No matter the venue, no matter the difference in skill between the teams, every player from every side plays their hearts out. And this year was most definitely no exception.
On Friday, Setpt. 29 2023, The Tesoro High School Titans football team and their student section traveled down to the Badlands to take on the Stallions of San Juan Hills High School.
The Stallions were riding a tsunami of momentum, coming into their home stadium 6-0 thanks to a few high profile transfers and a great offensive line. Eager to take back the bell from the Titans who won last year’s matchup at Titan Stadium 30-15, the Stallions were ready to put it all on the field.
Meanwhile, the Titans of Tesoro were not doing so well. Coming off of their bye week 3-2, Tesoro was still a very solid team, but didn’t have anywhere near the amount of momentum that San Juan had. Still, the Titans were prepared for anything that San Juan threw at them.
The game started at 7 PM in the Badlands of San Juan Hills High School to a sold out crowd on both sides of the field. The four captains of each team walked towards midfield for the coin toss which decided that the Titans would receive to start the game.
The battle began slowly for Tesoro. Following a quick first down, the Titans would be stopped, unable to get anything going on the ground. This forced a quick punt by number 90 senior Roman Mercado that placed San Juan on their own 24.
San Juan Hills would receive this punt with a fair catch and make quick work of Tesoro on the ground, running the ball nearly every play to great success. Since San Juan was able to convert every third down, they were able to score relatively quickly with 5:38 left in the first quarter. Following the made extra point, the Stallions would lead 7-0.
San Juan would kickoff to the Titans after their score to a small return, giving Tesoro the ball on their own 20 yard line. A score for the Stallions meant that the Titans would need to score quickly to prevent the game from getting out of hand. Unfortunately, Tesoro’s second drive would not go much better than their first. A short gain was followed by what appeared to be a first down that was brought back by a questionable flag thrown by the officials. This flag and two bad plays led to a three and out and a high, short punt that placed the Stallions on the Titans 44.
With great field position, the Stallions would gain a few yards on the next few plays but appeared to be short of the first down marker. But after the officials brought out the chains to measure the spot of the ball, a first down was ruled. Tesoro would continue to hold the Stallions to 3rd downs but San Juan would keep converting. Finally, the Titans would break up a pass in the end zone on third down causing the Stallions to settle for a field goal. Their kicker would easily knock the ball through the uprights putting San Juan up 10-0 with 1:03 left in the first quarter. The ensuing San Juan kickoff would place Tesoro on their own 20.
The Titans would run an unsuccessful play bringing the quarter to its end. 10-0 San Juan.
The Titans would open up the second quarter with a run play that was quickly stuffed leaving a third down. Tesoro would convert, but the play was called back due to another penalty. On their second attempt, the Titans would not be able to convert leading to another three and out. Senior Roman Mercado would follow up his last punt with a great punt placing the Stallions on their own 27.
San Juan Hills would start the drive with a first down, quickly followed by a huge second down tackle for loss on the Stallions running back by number 89 senior Defensive Lineman Alex Zeppos. Unfortunately, San Juan Hills Quarterback Timmy Herr threw a perfect pass for a successful 3rd down conversion. The Stallions would again get a first followed by a second down tackle for loss and third down conversion. San Juan would continue to convert third downs and drive down the field until they scored another touchdown with 3:32 remaining in the half. San Juan’s kicker would score the extra point, putting the Stallions up 17-0 against the Titans.
Down by 17 in the biggest game of the season, the Titans knew that their back was against the wall. If they wanted to win this game, they had to score on this drive.
Tesoro would start off the drive swinging, as number four junior quarterback Cash O’Byrne would complete a huge pass. San Juan would also get called for roughing the passer, leading to a massive gain for the Titans. A small gain on first down would be followed by a long catch and run by number five senior wide receiver and kicker Lance Guerrero to place the Titans deep in Stallions territory. So far, third downs had been the story of the game. The Stallions were able to convert nearly every single third down. Meanwhile, the Titans were yet to convert without a penalty. So, when Tesoro was held to a third down, a conversion was absolutely necessary. O’Byrne would receive the snap, sit in the pocket, and roll out to his right and find 2-star recruit and Air Force Academy commit number 24 senior running back Travis Wood who would catch the ball and run for a huge gain down to the 5 yard line. Tesoro had finally converted a 3rd down, and at the perfect time. 53.4 seconds remained on the clock. On the first play, there would be an incomplete pass. O’Byrne would hand the ball off to Wood. As the star player for the Titans, everyone in the stadium thought that Wood would run and power his way for yardage. But to everyone’s surprise, Wood shot-putted the football over the offensive and defensive lines to number 18 senior wide receiver Todd Nelson who was wide open in the end zone for a touchdown. Guerrero would score the extra point, making the score 17-7 in favor of the Stallions with 46.4 seconds remaining.
The Titans would attempt a squib kick which would work almost to perfection, as not one but two Stallions would muff the football. The Stallions would recover. Still, the squib took five valuable seconds off of the clock and placed San Juan on their own 24. The Stallions would run the ball twice to no avail, ending the half. San Juan Hills 17, Tesoro 7.
Tesoro would start the second half with a kickoff to San Juan. While the kick did not sail very far, the coverage was solid and so the Stallions would start the second half at the 36. The Stallions would start off the drive with a bad snap, leading to a scramble by the Stallion quarterback and a one yard sack by number 11 senior Linebacker Justin Guiterrez. By the end of the drive, the Stallions elected to kick a 38 yard field goal which scored, putting the Stallions up 20-7 with 7:15 left in the third quarter.
Undeterred by the Stallion score, Tesoro would start their drive with confidence. A small gain and completion would lead to a quick first down for the Titans. An incomplete pass would see a 15 yard penalty against the Stallions, and with a short gain on the next play the Titans would enter San Juan territory. On the following play, San Juan brought the heat with a blitz. As the pocket started to collapse, O’Byrne stepped up in the pocket and threw to open space and found Nelson. Unfortunately, the play was called back because of a holding call. O’Byrne followed with a pass to Guerrero in coverage to put the ball on the 25. Another solid pass from O’Byrne was immediately followed by two small sacks setting up a 4th and 7 on the 24. Despite the length, the Titans trusted in their kicker, Guerrero, to hit the long 41 yard field goal. After making big play after big play on the drive, it was no surprise that he scored the lengthy field goal. 20-10 San Juan, 2:13 left in the third quarter.
The Titans elected to squib kick again, giving the ball to the Stallions on their own 29. San Juan started their drive with an uneventful first play. The next two would be anything but. On second down, the Stallions decided to pass the ball to their star receiver Jason Robinson Jr.. The moment he laid his hands on the ball, number 23 junior defensive back Sammy Peterson would appear to come out of nowhere to land a loud hit on Robinson, knocking the ball out of his hands for an incompletion and making the Titans student section go ballistic. Robinson was undeterred despite the hit, as he turned to the Tesoro student section and stared them down.
On the following play, Stallions pass protection broke down causing their quarterback to roll out to his left. San Juan threw the ball to Robinson who ran an outside slant route towards the Tesoro bench. Robinson dropped the pass as senior Landon Anderson hit him onto the bench. This is when the full heat of the rivalry took over. A verbal altercation broke out between Robinson and the Tesoro bench, and chaos ensued. Both benches cleared and many players on the field got into a scuffle/shoving match. Flags flew everywhere. The student section lost their mind; the sound was almost deafening. Even after the refs were able to break up the fight, the student section continued to cheer, chanting something similar to “beat the brand.” The momentum of the game appeared to shift. For most of the remainder of the game, it was the away student section of the Titans that was making more noise than the Stallions in their own house.
The referees gathered together and discussed how they should enforce all of the penalties on the previous play for around six minutes. When they split up, they had decided that the best way to enforce the play was to call the incomplete pass and add a 15 yard penalty against the Stallions for unsportsmanlike conduct. This set up 4th down and 23 deep in San Juan’s own territory. With an unmakeable fourth down distance, the Stallions elected to punt. The Titans received the ball right at midfield.
Tesoro would gain seven yards on the first play, and O’Byrne would keep the ball on a QB run for a first down. Shortly afterwards, Wood received a pitch from O’Byrne. Instead of running, Wood looked to pass, where he found a wide open Lance Guerrero on the sideline. With an easy touchdown Guerrero dropped the pass. Incomplete. The next plays were a drop by Wood and an incomplete pass by O’Byrne to finish out the 3rd quarter. San Juan still led 20-10.
Facing a 4th and 10 at the start of the quarter on the San Juan 37, Coach Poston was faced with a difficult choice: Attempt an incredibly difficult 54 yard field goal, punt, or go for it. Poston chose the last option, electing to pass. O’Byrne caught the snap and threw a pass down the middle of the field. There was contact at the reception point, but no flag was thrown as the pass fell incomplete, turning the ball over on downs.
San Juan Hills started their drive at their own 37 with a two yard run followed by a holding call and then a false start forcing a 2nd and 23. The Stallions would throw for a decent gain leading to a 3rd and 16, where the pass would be blocked at the line for a 4th and 16. The Stallions, still leading by 10, elected to punt solidifying their three and out, where Tesoro would receive the ball at their own 37.
The Titans were riding a wave of momentum, and as such they started with a pass to Nelson who would break free from a tackle for a massive gain of 28. Shortly after this pass, number 3 junior wide receiver Campbell Schamel would catch a ball and break free from the defense, finally being caught at the one yard line. The Titans would attempt a QB sneak but would be stuffed and fail to score. On second down, a pitch to Wood was called, and Wood ran straight through the defense to score a touchdown. Thanks to Guerrero's scored extra point, Tesoro was now down 20-17 with 8:20 left in the fourth quarter.
The ensuing kickoff would go out of bounds, drawing a penalty and starting the Stallions drive on their own 35. With all of the momentum, Tesoro ended the drive by recovering the ball on their own 15 with 4 minutes left.
This drive would likely decide the game. Score, and Tesoro could complete the improbable comeback. Fail, and San Juan survives.
The drive started out slowly as O’Byrne was sacked. Undeterred, Guerrero was able to reel in a catch and gain a first down. Soon afterwards, Schamel would reel in another catch for another first down. With time starting to become a factor, Wood rushed out of bounds for a 3 yard gain leaving 2:41 on the clock, immediately followed by a penalty against Tesoro and a 2nd and 12. The penalty did not faze any of the Tesoro players, as they quickly followed it up with a completion and run out of bounds to stop the clock with 2:29 left exactly at midfield. The chaos of the game only continued on the next play, as San Juan attempted to pick the ball off. Instead, they tipped the ball up high in the air where number 2 Senior Wide Receiver Drew Wong would track the ball in the air and catch it for a first down.
At this point, O’Byrne had well over 300 yards and was yet to throw an interception. On the next play, he continued this pattern, finding Guerrero for a massive gain and first down. Ball on the San Juan Hills 8 yard line, less than 2 minutes to go. The next play was a QB option, one of the harder plays for a quarterback. O’Byrne elected to keep the ball on the option, but was read perfectly by the defense, and, so, he was sacked on the 11 yard line.
O’Byrne found Guerrero in the backfield who broke free from a tackle and scored a touchdown. There are no words to describe the emotions that Tesoro Fans felt. Everyone lost their minds. The parents in the crowd, the cheerleaders and song performers on the track, marching band and the conductor, the players on the bench and field, the students in the student section; every last one of them were going ballistic as everyone on the San Juan side was dead silent. As Guerrero knocked through the extra point, the score read San Juan 20, Tesoro 24. 1:14 in the fourth quarter. As the Titans kicked off with a squib kick that brought the clock down to 1:11, students from the student section started crowding the fence to the field preparing to storm the Badlands.
San Juan started the last drive of the game on their own 36 yard line with 71 seconds and two timeouts to score a touchdown; a field goal would not do.
On their first pass, they threw the ball deep, where it was nearly picked off but fell incomplete. Facing a 2nd and 10, they completed a pass to the sideline where a Stallion would run out of bounds. 60 seconds remaining. On third down, the pocket collapsed leaving no choice but for the quarterback to rush forward a few yards for a first down. The next play was more of the same: pocket collapses, QB forced to run for minimal gain where he gets stopped inbounds. San Juan is forced to use their penultimate timeout. Ball on their own 49, 44.6 seconds remaining. San Juan would then get a first down, stopping the clock for a few seconds until the chains were set. San Juan then ran the ball yet again for minimal gain. Ball on Tesoro 42. 29 seconds left. The Stallions passed the ball again on second down, but it was incomplete. 3rd and 7, 24.7 seconds remaining. The quarterback would throw a 1st down where the receiver would run out of bounds with 18.6 seconds remaining in the game on Tesoro’s 30 yard line. After the much needed break because of the stopped clock, the Stallions called for a pass where their quarterback was nearly sacked but broke free and passed for a first down where the receiver would run out of bounds. 11.1 seconds left, ball on Tesoro’s 16.
At this point in the game, there is nobody in either student section as both schools are ready to storm the field. If San Juan is stopped, Tesoro storms. If the Stallions score, the neon out crowd storms the field. Either way, one school will be elated, and the other school will be heartbroken.
With 11 seconds left, San Juan throws another pass, but it falls incomplete with seven seconds remaining on the clock on the Tesoro 16. 2nd and 10. The Stallions quarterback drops back, and finds a receiver down the middle. With space in the center, he runs straight for the end zone. Touchdown, San Juan. 0.6 seconds left. San Juan storms the field, flags fly left, right, up, down, and center. The fans don’t seem to care. Tesoro is devastated. After four minutes, the referees finally get the Stallions fans off of the field. The extra point is kicked, and knocked through. All the Stallions need to do now is not allow a miracle. The epic highs and lows of high school football were in full swing.
San Juan kicks off the ball with a squib kick, 0.6 seconds left. A Tesoro player receives the ball while on the ground, signaling that he has given himself up the moment he touches the ball, but the game is called. San Juan 27, Tesoro 24.