Defense lifts Gauchos past Dons

Tyler Cole

The Gauchos defense stood strong while the offense ran up the score as Saddleback defeated Santa Ana College, 35-14, Saturday night.

Avoiding what could have been a trap game against a weaker team, Saddleback refused to look past the Dons toward next week’s game against Mt. San Antonio College and took care of business, setting up what will now be a winner-take-all battle for the Mission Conference Championship next week at Mt. SAC.

The defense held the Dons to only one yard rushing in the first half, forcing Santa Ana to rely on its air attack, which was evident in the fact the Gauchos leading tacklers were corners Daivon Dumas and Rico Russo.

The offense, led by quarterback Sebastian Trujillo and running back Micah Abreu-Laybon, put up 21 points in the second quarter.

Trujillo finished 17-28 with a touchdown and interception. Trujillo completed his last six passes, helping the Gauchos to their ninth-straight victory over Santa Ana.

“Mike Tinoco was just making unbelievable catches, the O-line was giving me a lot of time, and [Santa Ana] started laying off the blitz a little more in the second half,” Trujillo said.

Abreu-Laybon racked up 82 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns by halftime. He ended with 205 all-purpose yards.

The running back averaged seven yards per carry with two touchdowns and three kickoff returns for 112 yards, including one in the third quarter he ran back 73 yards to set up a Saddleback drive that stalled at the one-yard line, but ate up valuable clock time.

The game’s leading rusher was proud of the team effort.

“I thought that we came out strong, and we pushed through as a team,” Abreu-Laybon said. “It was teamwork that got us this victory.”

Akoni Lasconia also ran the ball three times in the first quarter for 34 yards and scored a touchdown.

The Gauchos passing attack helped keep the offense balanced and the Don’s defense guessing.

Wide receiver Mike Tinoco caught six passes for 129 yards in the game. Three of his catches kept drives alive, including one for 34 yards on fourth down and 24 from the 36 yard line that set up first and goal.

Two plays later, Nick Hutter caught a touchdown pass from Trujillo with 36 seconds left in the second quarter, giving the team a 28-7 lead at halftime.

The second half was a closer game as Santa Ana came out with something to prove and held Saddleback to seven second half points, but was limited by Saddleback’s solid defense to only seven points of their own.

The Gaucho defense was impressive all game, holding the Dons to only 14 yards rushing on 28 attempts and 228 total yards.

More important than their ability to stop the run was their ability to come up with big plays when it counted. Santa Ana went 2-14 on third down conversions and 1-4 on fourth down because of Saddleback’s stout defense.

Gauchos’ coach Mark McElroy was pleased with the victory.

“To play for a conference championship was number two of our goals, and we put ourselves in the right position to do that, we are exactly were we want to be,” McElroy said.

Saddleback, now 8-1 (4-0), will visit Mt. SAC on Saturday at 6 p.m.

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