Football games are often decided by the little things.
An extra yard here, a penalty or a missed assignment.
There were a lot of critical plays in Santa Maria's CIF championship game against Big Bear, but if one stood out more than the rest it was the sequence at the start of the fourth quarter.
Then, the Saints were down 24-10. But they were driving, primarily using the legs of quarterback Blake Truhitte and running back Bobby Ruiz.
Ruiz and Truhitte drove the Saints down inside the Big Bear 5 with about 11:30 left in the game.
But with a chance to make the Division 12 title contest a one-score game, something happened. The Saints coughed up the ball.
On a hand-off up the middle, the ball-carrier was wrapped up low, but kept fighting for extra yardage. But while doing so, the ball squirted out and away.
Big Bear bounced on it at the 1.
All in one motion, Santa Maria's drive was over, its momentum evaporated.
Still though, all was not lost. The Saints defense did have the Bears pinned inside their own 1. A safety was not out of the question. So, perhaps, trying to make something out of nothing, nearly all of Santa Maria's defenders were stacked within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
That allowed Big Bear's big bruising fullback Zachary Bernard, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior, to slip past one defender and find daylight. A whole lot of daylight.
Bernard rumbled 99 yards for a score.
Just like that. A 13-point swing after the Bears missed the extra point. Santa Maria then trailed 30-10, with 10:57 left in the ball game.
The final score? Big Bear won 37-23, winning by 14 points.
Though the Saints were able to keep up with Big Bear later on in the fourth quarter, they were never able to overcome that late momentum shift.
That sequence wasn't the only costly one. Another came on a play early on in the third.
After trailing 17-10 at half, Santa Maria kicked off to Big Bear to start the third quarter. The Saints hadn't been able to slow down the Bears offense in the first half, with Big Bear scoring two touchdowns and a field goal, with their other drive ending on a 52-yard field goal attempt that was just wide a bit to the left.
But the Santa Maria defense came up with a stop on this initial drive of the third quarter, forcing a punt.
And the Santa Maria offense did what it did just about every possession during its seven-game win streak: Move the ball down the field.
But this Santa Maria drive eventually stalled. The Saints faced a fourth-and-8 from the Big Bear 41. The Saints moved star receiver John Ramos to his punter position, as it seemed they were going to try and pin the Bears deep in their own territory.
But, suddenly, Ramos shifted, closer to the line of scrimmage and took the snap. Ramos initially rolled to his right on the fake punt try and it looked like he may try to find a receiver and throw for a first down. Then Ramos took off, running to his left and finding that side of the field wide open.
Ramos had the eight yards he needed for a first down and much more. He finally cut toward the middle of the field and was tackled near the Big Bear 20. A huge 21-yard run on fourth down.
Then the flag came in. Well behind the play, a Santa Maria player had committed a personal foul. The penalty negated Ramos' run. The Saints then had to punt for real and did pin the Bears at their own 18.
But that wasn't all. Ramos was hurt on that fake punt run and wouldn't return to the game, spending the second half with a sling over his right arm.
On the Bears' ensuing drive, the marched down the field and scored on a 45-yard Daniel Jett touchdown run, taking a 24-10 lead.
The Saints wouldn't get any closer.