The Gauchos played tough in the blistering heat Saturday night and are sitting pretty with a two-game winning streak after they beat their long-standing rivals, the Santa Ana Dons, 27-15 at home.
Freshmen defensive end Malik Miller from North Carolina talked about why they have turned their season around after starting with a 0-3 record.
“I think we increased intensity at practice. Guys started to care a lot more and started to take the game a lot more seriously,” Miller said. “This was the first time for a lot of us ever losing three games in a row…A lot of guys became more of a team and increased intensity and became more competitive. I think that actually helped us win our last two games because we became a better team and things started going a lot smoother.”
Since 2001, Saddleback Gauchos have been under the mentoring and coaching of Mark McElroy, leading the team to a 13-1 record against Santa Ana. The Gauchos now hold a perfect 2-0 conference record after Saturday night’s much needed win.
Star player for the evening and starting quarterback Ricky Bautista threw an astounding 330 yards, scoring three touchdowns for the Gauchos. Bautista also threw 26 completions on 36 attempts.
Although the Saddleback game announcer called it a “vanilla of a game” in the beginning, the Gauchos sped things up when they scored the first touchdown with a 61-yard pass from Bautista to wide receiver Forrest Dunivin, giving them a 7-0 lead.
Saddleback was already hurting themselves with penalities at this point (and ended up with a total of eight for the game. ) But the situation worsen when valued running back Drake Griffin was injured on their second drive in the first quarter. Griffin did not return to the game.
The Dons were primarily running the ball in the first quarter with little success and seemed to always go straight down the middle. Santa Ana did not score until the start of the second quarter, when they blocked a punt and got a safety, bringing the score to 7-2.
The Gauchos returned with their “hurry-up offense” and eventually scored on a short five-yard pass from Bautista to freshmen wide receiver Dominic Collins. The extra point rendered a score of 14-2.
Santa Ana’s offensive coordinators seemed to be stuck on “running the ground game” and were unable to buy a point until the end of the first half. They then scored a one-yard touchdown from back-up quarterback Lincoln Faletoi, bringing them closer to Saddleback, with a score of 14-8. The extra point was blocked by Saddleback.
The second half started with the Dons scoring a touchdown to make the game 14-15. This would be Santa Ana’s only lead of the night.
With almost two minutes left in the third quarter, the Dons could not stop the strong offense of the Gauchos as Myron Buchanan scored a touchdown bringing Saddleback back into the lead, 20-15. The Gauchos decided not to go for the extra point and instead went for the two-point conversion, which was no good.
In the fourth quarter, the ball got punted back and forth several times before Saddleback had a crucial interception by sophomore defensive back, Cody Bednar, heightening a momentum the Gauchos needed.
This drive and key play ended with a long pass from Bautista to Dunivan with an extra point kicked, bringing them to the final score of the night, 27-15.
“We’re just looking to win again. We’re practicing hard again and we had a nice start off Monday. A lot of guys are actually looking to go undefeated in conference,” Miller said. “I think we’re going to keep on continuing to win and play positive as a team.”
The Gauchos hope to maintain their winning streak playing the Cougars at College of the Canyons, Saturday Oct. 11 at 6 p.m.