(Dana La Vertu)
It has been the better part of a month since Saddleback has taken the field at home and its match-up with Riverside College proved to be a happy home-coming. Saturday’s game leaned heavily on the defense, which carried the Guachos to a 24-14 victory over RCC in their National Division opener.
The Gauchos came out onto the field after a disappointing loss to El Camino College, followed by a bye week, and were well-rested and ready for a hard-hitting contest against the Tigers. Despite being dangerously depleted by injuries, especially in the receiving corps, the Gauchos hung tough and tailored their game plan to short pass plays and runs.
The Tigers came out fast in the first half, putting up 14 unanswered points and relied heavily on the legs of running back, Jamaal Scott. He was their Renaissance man, accounting for 98 of their 115 first-half yards and would finish the game with 221 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
Saddleback had some offensive struggles with its top-three receivers inactive for the game, as well as the hardships it had trying to handle Riverside’s defensive speed. The Gauchos were rarely able to gain more than a couple yards on stretch plays before they were met by a host of Tigers.
Riverside scored its first touchdown of the evening on an interception by Brian Shrock early in the first quarter.Shrock went 16-26 for 166 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.
RCC’s next, and final, score came in the first three minutes of the second quarter on a long run by Scott.
Saddleback buckled down after Riverside lead 14-0 and didn’t let another point for the visitors.
The Gauchos offense came back strong before halftime with two touchdowns by running back Josh Ferrell. The first came on a one-yard run and the second on an 11-yard screen pass from Shrock. Ferrell, who would end the game as Saddleback’s No.1 rusher and receiver with 60 yards on the ground and 47 yards receiving.
Special teams played a part in Saddleback’s win over the Tigers when Jonathan Dawson blocked a Riverside punt, which was recovered by Aaron Brown and run back 18 yards for the third touchdown of the quarter.
After halftime, defense held the Tigers in check for the remainder of the game, limiting their powerful rushing attack to only 40 yards. When Riverside started to gain momentum, an interception by Dan Urias on the one-yardline late in the fourth quarter kept RCC out of the end zone.
In a strange twist of fate, Saddleback’s longest run play, a crushing, bruising 24-yard dash, turned into a moment of terror in the fourth quarter.
Ferrell received the handoff, lowered his shoulder and knocked off the helmet off a Tiger defender, broke several tackles, and then was seriously injured during the tackle. He was carted off, with a brace on his leg by EMTs and did not return. His future for the season is questionable.
Head coach Mark McElroy was pleased when his team ended up on top after a bleak start to the game.
“Our defense played very well. Our special teams came through with a huge play when we really needed it,” said McElroy. “Riverside had a very talented team. This was a big win for us.”After this commanding victory, Saddleback starts 1-0 in the National Division and its overall record improved to 5-1 on the season.
Next week, the Gauchos play Pasadena City College at home. The Lancers’ record is 5-1 (0-1). Kickoff is 5 pm.