Saugus High quarterback Nathan Eldridge said before the season he believed the Centurions could be just as explosive on offense as in 2016. Saturday, his arm and legs backed up his lips. Eldridge threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in a 25-21 road win over Santa Barbara High. “He got us out of trouble when we needed him to,” said Saugus offensive lineman Nathan Tripp. “He was really that leader on the field on offense. When we needed those yards, he either threw a great pass to someone or ran away and used his speed.”
Centurions corner Matt Ballentine used his speed to reach a wide-open Santa Barbara receiver in the closing moments. The Dons quarterback heaved the ball toward the end zone with under 10 seconds to play, and Ballentine covered a large swath of ground to bat the ball down and end the game. Saugus (1-0) rushed the field, but the celebration was short-lived, Eldridge said. “We all knew that we didn’t finish the game the way we should have,” he said. But, wow, did the Cents start well. On Saugus’ first offensive play, Eldridge hit Trevor Girch on a roughly 50-yard touchdown pass. Then, later in the first quarter, Devin Thompson followed suit on a shorter catch and score. The Centurions led 12-0 after the first quarter, and Eldridge’s 24-yard scoring scamper helped them to an 18-7 advantage at half. The quarterback connected on a screen pass touchdown with running back Quinn Sheaffer early in the fourth quarter for a 25-7 lead. It was all Santa Barbara from there, as the Dons scored 14 unanswered points to put the pressure on Saugus in the closing seconds. “It was definitely climactic,” Eldridge said. “A nail-biter.” In last year’s opener against Santa Barbara (a 35-7 Saugus win), Eldridge threw for 172 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His repeat performance Saturday helped keep the Cents in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6’s No. 1 spot Monday, when the latest rankings were released. The Centurions play at Camarillo on Friday. Saugus beat the Scorpions 28-25 last year at College of the Canyons. The Centurions went 5-0 in preleague play in 2016, and have won their last seven preleague games overall. Camarillo lost, 35-20, to Rio Mesa of Oxnard in its season opener.