Gauchos drop football opener to Mt. SAC at the end

In the 2012 season game, freshman kicker Donald Hageman hits the game winning field goal for Mt. San Antonio College with six seconds left in the game. (Lariat archives)

Michael Grennell

Despite a late comeback in the fourth quarter, the No. 17 Saddleback College football team came up short in their season opener, as they lost to the No. 1 Mt. San Antonio College Mounties, 51-48.

After nearly a full four quarters of back-and-forth scoring and a 17-point difference erased in the fourth quarter, Saddleback (0-1) and Mt. San Antonio (1-0) sat tied 48-48 with 30 seconds to play. After being stopped on third down and one yard to go, the Gauchos were forced to punt from their 13-yard line. A pass interference call and a heaved 48-yard pass later, the Mounties took the lead 51-48 on a field goal with two seconds left in the game. This proved to be the game winner, as time ran out on the Gauchos.

The loss snapped a five-game home winning streak for the Gauchos, dating back to last season. The loss was Saddleback’s fifth loss in their last six games versus Mt. San Antonio, and their third consecutive loss.

After the game, head coach Mark McElroy said that the game was one of the craziest he had ever been a part, and despite the loss, he remained positive.

“I’m extremely proud of the passion and the effort that we played with tonight,” McElroy said. “You can choose to feel sorry for yourself, or you can choose to bond as a team and realize that we have nine more games left.”

McElroy also said that they played a good team, and there will be lots of opportunities this season.

Saddleback also managed to set several school records in the loss on Saturday. Freshman quarterback Tim Belman set a school single game record for most passes attempted (64) and most passes completed (48). Along with those records, the team set a record for most total offensive plays in a game with 108 plays.

Like his coach, Belman was also upbeat after the loss, saying that the team played well for their first game. When asked about his record setting performance, Belman said that it felt amazing, especially as it was his first game as a starter.

Belman’s first game got off to a promising start as the Gauchos scored first to take a 7-0 lead over the Mounties, as they capped off their 87-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Belman to freshman wide receiver Dominick Ela. However, the lead was short-lived, as the Mounties tied the score at 7-7 on the very next play, as freshman wide receiver Kaelin Clay returned the kickoff 93 yards for the touchdown.

After Saddleback recovered a fumble with a minute left in the first quarter, Belman threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to start the second quarter. Mt. San Antonio scored again to tie up the game at 14-14, and a minute later, Belman connected with Ela again, this time for a 50-yard touchdown to give the Gauchos a 21-14 lead with 10 minutes left in the half.

The Mounties scored next on a 53-yard rushing touchdown, and the Gauchos responded with a 55-yard drive that ended with running back James Marshall score on a two-yard run to make the score 28-21 with five minutes in the half. Mt. San Antonio scored twice to end the second quarter, giving the Mounties a 35-28 lead at the half.

Saddleback’s offense stalled in the third quarter, as they were held to only a field goal during the period.

The Mounties offense slowed also, as they only scored one offensive touchdown in the quarter, on a 10-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Nick Montana to Clay. The Mounties’ second touchdown of the quarter came on defense, as sophomore linebacker Julian Gener returned an interception 85 yards for the score. As the third quarter came to an end, Saddleback trailed Mt. San Antonio, 31-48.

The Gauchos opened up the scoring in the fourth quarter with a 29-yard field goal, and on the ensuing kickoff, recovered a fumble that was returned 31 yards by sophomore Yogi Hale for the touchdown. After a missed field goal by the Mounties, Saddleback drove 72 yards down field and scored, tying the game 48-48.

The late momentum came up short for the Gauchos as the Mounties would take the win in the game’s dying seconds.

After this opening loss, looking forward to next week was Belman’s biggest focus.

“I feel like I made some mistakes,” said Belman. “But I’m going to hit the film room hard, and learn from my mistakes. We are just looking forward to playing our next opponent.”

Belman and the Gauchos get their chance to rectify those mistakes this Saturday, as they will be taking on the College of the Canyons Cougars in Santa Clarita. This will mark the first time that Saddleback and Canyons will have met in the regular season. Since 2001, Saddleback is 1-3 in four bowl games versus Canyons. The last time the two teams faced each other was in the 2009 Western State Bowl, when the Gauchos beat the Cougars 31-20.

Play-by-Play from the Game

Gaucho Team Records

Sophomore Yogi Hale recovers a fumble and returns it for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Saddleback football team walks off the field after a close loss

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