Sophomores Zachary Wade (No. 7, red) and Kai Ross (No. 21, red) attempt to tackle a Golden West College player. The Gauchos finished the season 8-2. (Cliff Robbins)
“We just talked about how important it is for us to play with one heartbeat as a team and other then that we just kept doing what we were doing and stuck with the process and we’ve just improve every single week,” said Mark McElroy. “[This is] a special team with some great kids that play hard and play hard together.”
Early in the game Gauchos sophomore halfback Michael Neal took a handoff from Stanton, got some day light and rambled just short of a touchdown all the way to the one yard line. The next play Stanton lept over the the goal line and then passed for the two point conversion, giving the Gauchos the lead, 8-0.
“We’ve been put to the test, but never stopped,” said Stanton. “That is so much to do with our defense, so much to do with our line, so much to do with blocking from our receivers and big plays from our receivers.”
The Gauchos defense held the Rustlers for the change of possession at the 10:26 mark in the first quarter. In the new series of downs, Saddleback freshman halfback Jojo Binda ran strong to setup Stanton with a pass on 3rd down to pick up the first down that needed to be executed to keep the drive alive.
“It was so much fun to be out here on this field and with these guys,” said Stanton.
Saddleback started to pick the Rustlers defense apart, starting by dumping a short pass to sophomore receiver Zack Davis from Stanton to pick up the first down. The Gauchos drive down the field culminated with Stanton leaping into the end zone, putting them up 15-0 at 8:59 mark in the 1st quarter.
“It’s awesome, we put so much into this and I mean for the first time in a long time we won the league championship,” said Collins.
Golden West needed to strike back, to keep them in the game and they started connecting their scheme on offense. The Rustlers got a 3rd and short when sophomore receiver Josh Smith received a short pass completed by freshman quarterback Nick Sternad.
“It’s pretty awesome man, we haven’t had a good season in the past couple of years, so it feels really good to win like that and have an eight game win streak,” sophomore receiver Cody White said.
Gauchos defended well against the run in the Orange Empire Conference Title game. After going 0-2 to start the season, Saddleback won eight straight to win the title. (Dominic Ebel/Lariat)
The score by Golden West was orchestrated down the field to the Saddleback 30-yard line, just outside of the red zone, using two series of first downs. The Gauchos defense broke on 3rd down and the Rustlers got their first touchdown making it 15-7 at the 2:59 mark left in the first quarter.
At the 50-yard line Gauchos sophomore receiver Dominic Collins sprang into a catch and run from Stanton down to the 35 yard line of Golden West on their next drive.
Stanton then ran for 10 yards and sophomore halfback Matt Brock ran to the left side for the touchdown, making it 22-7 with 13:31 left in the second quarter.
Golden West responded with a 40-yard kickoff return that sparked them for the moment. The Gauchos defense stepped up though, holding them on the run and then Saddleback’s sophomore cornerback Candido Corporan picked off the Sternad pass, giving the possession and momentum back to the Gauchos.
The Rustlers turnover carried over to the Gauchos offense which sparked a Stanton pass to Collins for a 20-yard gain, putting them in position to score in the red zone. Golden West could not stop a six play drive that ended with JoJo Binda galloping 20 yards for a touchdown making the score 29-7.
The Gauchos defense held the Rustlers on their attempt to score a touchdown before halftime. Golden West had to settle for a 36-yard field goal to make the score 29-10 at the half.
Golden West came out of halftime fired up and they put a smashing hit on a special teams play on sophomore halfback Clinton Mbah, that forced a fumble, putting them on the Gauchos 30-yard line.
It took the Rustlers four plays before Golden West’s halfback galloped 10 yards for a touchdown and got a two-handed, over the head, shovel pass two point conversion to make it 29-18.
Saddleback, still sitting on the lead, watched as Golden West smashed sophomore halfback Michael Neal making him cough up the ball on their next drive. It took two plays for Golden West to find sophomore receiver Quest Truxton, who made a stop and go move, and Stenard faked a pump pass and threw long for the score to make it 29-25.
It’s a championship game that Golden West has made it’s comeback in and with the game on the line, Saddleback freshman halfback Marvin Marshall galloped 94 yards on the next kickoff for a touchdown to make it 36-25.
Golden West returned the ensuing kick off to the 50-yard line, using a spin move to break free.
“They are a good team, we couldn’t have expected them to show up like they did in the first half,” said Stanton. “We had to know [Goldenwest was] going to change.”
Golden West took two plays to score, as sophomore receiver Jordan Veasy got a pass from Sternad, but still trailed 36-32. Saddleback started on their 25-yard line on the the ensuing drive and went 10 plays and got a field goal to make it 39-32.
“We almost made mistakes and gave them the game there for a second,” said Collins. “We kept with the game plan, stuck together and came out with the victory.”
Golden West almost sacked Stanton on the next drive, but he got away, scrambled out of the pocket, threw a pass up for grabs for his receiver Cody White who galloped and grabbed the ball over the Rustlers defenders to get a touchdown, putting them up for the final score of 46-32.
“I ran the route, Johnny started scrambling and I just made a play,” said White. “I wanted the ball more than that guy.”
At home, Saddleback will play Riverside City College, Saturday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m in the California Community College Athletic Association Southern California Playoffs.
“We expect to see the quality that we saw tonight or better” said McElroy.