Gauchos fall to Cerritos in the season opener

Saddleback College’s Gauchos fell short to Cerritos in the opening game of the 2014 Football season, 27-24.

Cerritos received the opening kickoff and started the first quarter’s action with a 48-yard return. Their opening drive resulted in a touchdown after 10 plays and 51 yards.

Falcons running back Joseph Donnel punched in the first score of the game on a 4-yard rush. The Falcons did however miss the PAT making the score 6-0 just five minutes into the game.

The Gauchos used 14 plays on their first drive looking to answer back to Cerritos’ early lead. Quarterback Ricky Bautista marched Saddleback down field starting from their own 20-yard line. The drive resulted in a booming, 47-yard field goal from freshman kicker Erik Harris. The kick looked as if it would have been good from 57 yards out as Harris cut the deficit in half making the score 6-3.

A second long kickoff return from Cerritos set up what should have been another successful drive. However, Falcon’s quarterback Jimmy Walker has a deep pass attempt intercepted by Gaucho defensive back Aaron Washington on an acrobatic catch that put the ball right back in Saddleback’s hands. Shortly after the take away, Ricky Bautista connects with receiver Roderick Dedrick for a huge gain of 26 yards, the first of seven passing plays resulting in 25 yards or more in the game. Cerritos was able to appease the big gain by forcing the Gauchos to punt with 1:27 left in the first quarter.

Gaucho player tries to evade Cerrito's player in the opening game of the season. (Photograph/Zach Epstein)

Gaucho player tries to evade Cerrito’s player in the opening game of the season. (Photograph/Zach Epstein)

“I just had to get those butterflies out and get comfortable. I was pretty amped up but I was able to stay under control and make some good throws,” said Ricky Bautista after the game. Bautista showed excellent poise in the passing pocket early on and was effortlessly firing off quick passes to his receivers. He completed 8 out of 11 pass attempts accumulating 72 yards in the first half alone.

In the second quarter, Cerritos was able to tack on 7 more points on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Walker to Falcon receiver De’Jai Whitaker. Head Coach McElroy stayed with the aerial attack in the second quarter as Bautista and sophomore Anthony Berg completed 10-15 passes combined in the second quarter alone including a sensational 44 yard touchdown pass from Berg hauled in by receiver Chris Dimry. After one half of football, Saddleback headed into the locker room down 13-10.

The combination of Bautista and Berg under center in the first half lead to 10 points. McElroy may have been experimenting a “one-two punch” featuring the fast paced/short yardage advancement down field of Bautista and Anthony Berg’s “high risk, high reward” approach that lead to the first touchdown of the season for the Gauchos, but also two costly interceptions.

Saddleback ran a whopping 27 pass plays and 9 rushes in the first half and had the ball on offense for 12:37.

The Gaucho defense also had a strong showing in the first half as well only allowing 13 points and four takeaways, two interceptions and forcing two turnovers on downs.

McElroy lead his team out of the locker room and the Gauchos looked re-energized and ready to turn the game around. Saddleback would get the ball to open the second half however Gaucho playmaker Kevin Williams suffered a knee injury on the kickoff and would not return to the game.

Anthony Berg and the offense put a promising drive together but Cerritos’ stingy defense held strong and took over on downs after Saddleback failed to get a first down on a fake punt play.

On the ensuing Cerritos drive, Jimmy Walker made a big play on third-and-14 finding the Falcon receiver Domonique Young for a gain of 16, keeping the drive alive. Ultimately Cerritos would get the ball across the goal line and make the score 20-10 with 8:25 left in the third quarter.

Just before the third quarter ended, Saddleback linebacker Ka’ena Paikai intercepted a pass from Jimmy Walker giving the Saddleback sideline some life. Despite the effort by Saddleback’s defense, the Gauchos would not be able to get anything going until late in the fourth quarter.

After yet another Cerritos touchdown making the score 27-10, McElroy and company knew they had to get some points on the board with only 6:43 left in the game.

Ricky Bautista would answer the call as he lead his offense 74 yards down the field and the drive ended with a 1 yard touchdown run from Myron Buchanan. Bautista was 4-6 and collected 60 yards on that drive alone and Saddleback showed they were not just going to roll over with 4:38 left on the clock.

The Saddleback defense then came up huge forcing a Cerritos three-and-out that only took 1:09 off the ticker.

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Gaucho player reaches and catches the ball in the opening game of the season. (Photograph/Zach Epstein)

With 3:29 left on the clock, Ricky Bautista was the driving force for a second Gaucho touchdown in a row hooking up with receiver Darren Clark on a 29-yard touchdown pass. Clark was able to make an outstanding play in heavy traffic to put his team within just three points. “I ran a post and I knew we needed to score so I just put it in God’s hands and he blessed me and the team with a touchdown,” Clark said.

With the score 27-24, Saddleback lines up for the onside kick. A textbook chip from kicker Derek Perez took two quick hops and then a big third bounce. As the football fluttered through the air, Drake Martinez, a member of the Saddleback onside kick team soared through the air and swallowed up the ball.

The Gaucho sideline erupted with excitement, only to be deflated by the sight of a yellow penalty marker lying on the turf. The call was offsides on the kicking team, a very rare call in football that didn’t seem to be seen by anyone except the line judge. Saddleback would attempt the onside again but was unsuccessful.

“I’ll have to look at it on film to see if we were offsides,” McElroy said shortly after the game ended.

McElroy was certainly not alone in being unsure about the penalty that may have cost the game for the Gauchos.

McElroy is serving his 14th season leading the Gauchos. He looks to continue his streak of 13 straight bowl appearances ranging from 2001 to last season. McElroy will lead a young and inexperienced group of players out on the field this year as 17 players from the 2013 team went on to transfer to four-year schools.

“We’re a young team and we made a lot of mistakes early but I like the effort, the passion, and the perseverance they showed tonight,” McElroy said.

The Gauchos will take on the Riverside City College Tigers at home on Saturday, Sept. 13 at 6:00 p.m.

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