Gauchos bowl over Griffins

(Shannon Patrick)

John Franz

Revenge is often bittersweet. The Saddleback College football team, ranked 24th in the nation, was denied a playoff berth last week when Grossmont, ranked 23rd in the nation, lost to Santa Ana. As fate would have it, the Gauchos knocked the Griffins out of the playoffs with a 44-27 victory on Saturday.

With the win, Saddleback finished the regular season at 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the Southern Conference. The Gauchos were selected to play in the Western State Bowl against the College of the Canyons Cougars on Saturday (Nov. 21). Saddleback will be the host team for the bowl game.

“Our mission was to knock them out of the playoffs since they messed up our chances by losing to Santa Ana last weekend,” Saddleback quarterback Brad Curtis said. “We took it as a personal challenge, because Grossmont ended our season.”

The Griffins quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Brandon Fricke threw for both touchdowns, for 43 and 37 yards respectively.

The Gauchos looked a little shaky early on coming off the bye week.

Saddleback took out the trickery to cut the Grossmont lead in half. Wide receiver Ben Gomez threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Knowles. Gomez has attempted three passes this season all for touchdowns. Knowles finished the game with five catches for 99 yards.

With 3:49 remaining in the first quarter, Curtis threw a touchdown pass to linebacker Marc Moody to tie the game at 14-14. Curtis finished the day with 165 yards passing and two touchdowns with an interception.

With 34 seconds remaining in a wild first quarter, the Gauchos took the lead, 17-14, on a 23-yard field goal by Michael Frisina. The Gauchos never relinquished the lead.

“It was a terrific team win,” Saddleback coach McElroy said. ” Everything worked well today. Special teams were rolling. I’m very proud of Jai (Morris) and Kory (Johnson) and Cameron Chadwick.”

Johnson led the team in rushing with 130 yards rushing on 17 carries. Many of his carries came from the “wildcat” formation, taking direct snaps from the center. Cameron Chadwick had 54 yards rushing and a touchdown.

After a Grossmont touchdown to tie the score at 24, Jai Morris ran back the ensuing kickoff 86 yards for the 31-24 lead. Morris had two kickoff returns for 143 yards.

With 2:32 left in the first half, the Griffins seemed to gain momentum by blocking a punt, but Troy Muenzer missed a 43-yard field goal to end the first half with the 31-24 Gaucho lead.

To start the second half Morris returned the opening kickoff 57 yards and Frisina made a 36-yard field goal for the 10 point lead, 34-24.

The Griffins fumbled the ball on their own 42. Saddleback’s Arthur Hobbs recovered the ball.

The Gauchos capitalized on the miscue. Curtis connected on a 12-yard pass to running back John Akiba for the touchdown and the 44-27 lead.

With the made point after touchdown, Frisina captured a school record with 45th consecutive extra points made.

“Frisina was excellent tonight,” McElroy said. “Not only did he get the record, but he was kicking off and pinning them deep and that’s helps us out tremendously on defense.”

The Gaucho defense kept the explosive Grossmont running game in check. The Griffins only rushed for 55 yards.

Zach Cavanagh contributed to this story

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