Last week’s comeback magic could not be matched on Homecoming night.
The Saddleback College football team, ranked seventh in the nation, saw a potential winning cut short on an interception in the end zone with eight seconds left in a 27-21 loss to visiting Palomar College. The Comets were ranked twenty-first in the nation coming in to the contest.
The loss dropped the Gauchos record to 5-1 overall and 1-1 in Southern Conference play. Saddleback plays at Long Beach City College next Saturday (Oct. 17).
“Palomar is a better team,” Saddleback quarterback David Ingram said. “We couldn’t go down the way we did to Santa Ana and try to win.” Saddleback overcame a 17-point fourth quarter deficit last week (Oct. 3) at Santa Ana.
After being pulled for most of the second half, Ingram was inserted back into the Gauchos offense at the Palomar 44-yard line with 1:50 left to play in the game.
“I was happy,” Ingram said. “I was excited to go back in, and I wish I could’ve stayed in.”
Ingram used his legs to pull off a nine-yard run on a critical third down. Ingram followed with a five-yard pass to Jai Morris on fourth down, a 10-yard pass to T.J. Knowles on the next third down, and an imperative seven-yard pass to Dre Laney with 19 seconds to go.
Following a spike to save Saddleback’s final timeout, Ingram threw the ball long to the far corner of the end zone and out-of-bounds.
Brad Curtis replaced Ingram on third down and threw an interception to Anthony Young of the Comets in the end zone with eight seconds left to seal the loss for Saddleback.
“I told them both that they would play,” Saddleback coach Mark McElroy said. “They both have different skills to offer, David (Ingram) with his legs and Brad (Curtis) with his arm.”
Curtis completed the same amount of passes to Gaucho receivers as he did to Young. Young had three interceptions in the game, the only for the Comets and all off of Curtis. Young’s interception yards out-numbered Curtis’ actual passing yards, 26-14.
Saddleback’s offense was frustrated throughout most of the first half.
“We came out lackadaisical,” Morris said. “We usually come out real hard, but this week was real up and down.”
Ingram was unable to unleash any long passes to his big target, Knowles, but was able to get the ball into playmaker Morris’ hands numerous. The attempts proved to no avail early.
Palomar came out of the gates flying with a 56-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nate Ong to Saalim Hakim eight minutes into the first quarter.
Following a failed fake field goal by the Gauchos, the Comets burned of a majority of the clock on a 78-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a 75-yard run. After a false start penalty, Martavious Lee brought down the eight-yard pass to cap the drive and give Palomar a 14-0 lead.
Saddleback would breakthrough in the second quarter with a five-minute, 11-play, 71-yard touchdown drive. After a stoppage to take care of an injured Keegan Gogerty, Ingram took over and brought back flashes of last week’s comeback victory over Santa Ana.
Ingram broke off a 29-yard run on a broken passing play and called his own number for a six-yard run to the Palomar one-yard line. Linebacker-turned-power back Kory Johnson put the Gauchos on the board with the one-yard touchdown run.
Palomar added a 40-yard field goal with 4:58 remaining in the half.
The Comets blocked a 46-yard field goal attempt by Saddleback and recovered the ball at the Saddleback 39-yard line. Palomar capitalized on the short field and kicker Kevin Ditch put up a 30-yard field goal as time expired in the first half for the 20-7 halftime lead.
Knowles got his first action of the night with a 33-yard catch on the first play of the second half. The drive stalled for the Gauchos.
With 8:07 left in the third quarter, Morris drove home a 14-yard touchdown run to cut Palomar’s lead to six points.
Tyler Lavea would give the Comets a bigger cushion with a six-yard touchdown run 3:12 into the fourth quarter.
Following a Richard Crawford interception at the Saddleback 20-yard line, the Gauchos pounded the ball down the field. Two plays after coming out of the game due to injury, Charles Neal finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
The Gauchos were unable to finish the comeback.
“Just because we lose one doesn’t mean we can just quit,” Ingram said. “This is a minor setback.”
Palomar’s victory came in spite of a huge number of penalties, a majority of them personal fouls, against the Comets. Palomar racked up 17 penalties for 172 yards against them. Saddleback had nine penalties for 59 yards.
Ingram led the pair of Saddleback quarterbacks going 14-for-29 for 122 yards passing. Curtis finished 3-for-13 for 14 yards and had three interceptions.
Morris led the Gauchos in receiving with 65 yards on 10 catches and in rushing with 70 yards on 12 carries for 135 total yards.
Palomar also induced a two-quarterback system with Matt Christian replacing Nate Ong. Christian out-passed Ong going 13-for-26 for 152 yards and one interception. Ong finished seven-for-nine for 101 yards.
Orenzo Davis was a horse for the Comets on the ground with 95 yards on 11 carries.
Paul Moore led Palomar in the air with 116 yards on eight receptions.
Next week, the Saddleback travels to Long Beach City College. Kickoff is a 6 p.m. at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in Long Beach.
This will be the 16th consecutive match-up between the Gauchos and Vikings. Saddleback is 12-5 lifetime against Long Beach City.
The Gauchos defeated the Vikings 63-44 last year. The teams combined for 930 yards of offense.
John Franz contributed to this article.