Exavier Edwards Ford fights off a Santa Ana player during Saturday’s homecoming game. (Michael Grennell)
As the Saddleback Gauchos football team walked off the field at Saddleback Stadium on Saturday night, one thing was clear.
This was not the same team from last year.
After losing to the Santa Ana Dons 33-20, the Gauchos fell to 1-3 on the season, their worst start to a season since they started off 1-3 in 2000.
“We made a couple of stupid mistakes early,” quarterback Jake Geringer said. “I made a couple of bad reads at the end, including the (interception return for a touchdown), which really hurt us.”
Among the stupid mistakes Geringer talked about, were a couple of penalties the Gauchos incurred early on. Penalties have been costing the Gauchos all season and that trend continued on Saturday. Two weeks after being charged with a season high 95 penalty yards in the loss to Riverside, the Gauchos set season highs in penalties committed (15) and penalty yards (114).
One key penalty came with just over five minutes remaining in the game. The Gauchos appeared to convert on fourth down on a 14-yard pass from Geringer to running back Anthony Cade. But Saddleback was hit with a 10-yard holding penalty, which nullified the completion and forced the Gauchos to punt, ending any chances of a fourth quarter comeback.
“It’s difficult to have a penalty called on fourth and ten at that time in the game,” Head Coach Mark McElroy said after the game. “In this game it was very difficult to overcome the penalties.”
Geringer got off to a hot start in the first half, completing 19 of 26 pass attempts for 166 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 17 yards. He struggled in the second half though, completing 10 of 22 passes for 65 yards and two interceptions, while rushing for 31 yards.
Despite going up against the best run defense in the SCFA Southern Division, Cade once again put together a good game, rushing for 101 yards on 16 attempts, while also catching eight passes for 50 yards. Saturday marked the third time this season that Cade rushed for 90 or more yards, but it was also the second straight game in which he failed to find the end-zone.
Freshman wide receiver Eric Lauderdale continued to see an increase in his production on Saturday, as he led the team with 63 yards receiving on seven catches. After only catching five passes for 33 yards in the Gaucho’s first two games, Lauderdale has lead the team with 13 catches for 144 yards over the last two games. Over this span, Lauderdale is the only Gaucho with over 100 yards receiving.
Lauderdale spoke after the game, saying that connecting early on offense was a part of the problem for the Gauchos. He said that it has been slightly challenging with the changing of the team’s quarterbacks. “We need to work on chemistry,” Lauderdale said. “We’re just trying to get to know each other.”
After seeing limited time in the loss to Riverside due to an ankle injury suffered in the second week of the season, opening day starting quarterback Tim Belman saw himself on the sidelines for almost the entire game Saturday. McElroy talked about the change in starting quarterbacks after the game, saying “Belman is fully healed from (his ankle injury), now it’s just a decision of which quarterback will be the best option for being successful on offense.”
The Gauchos (1-3) will look to turn around their season on Saturday, as they play the undefeated Ventura College Pirates (5-0). Despite falling to 1-3, McElroy remains confident in his team. “Our kids are good kids,” he said. “Our kids give great effort and they practice hard every single day.”
Geringer, while disappointed with the team’s performance so far, still believes that the Gauchos can turn it around.
“We’re just not executing like we should, we are killing ourselves with penalties, with quarterback reads, whatever it may be. We are just killing ourselves. I don’t think there is any reason we can’t beat any team we play.”