Walnut, Calif. – The bubble burst for Saddleback as the chance to play for their second straight Mission Conference championship was taken away by Mt. San Antonio College Saturday night.
The Mounties controlled both sides of the ball, playing the part of the spoiler as they defeated Saddleback 41-28 in the last game of the regular season.
“Everytime we were in this situation we pull it out but I don’t know what happened this time,” said wide receiver Donald Hawthorne. “I think we could’ve come back, but the offense wasn’t getting the job done today.”
Led by their quarterback Kevin Craft, a transfer from San Diego State University, the Mt. SAC sophomore passed for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
He currently is second in the conference averaging 337 passing yards a game and leads the conference with 29 touchdown passes.
“We knew their strength was their passing game,” said defensive coordinator Steve Crapo. “We knew we couldn’t stop them all together because they are that good, but we could’ve contained them a little bit better.”
After Mt. SAC scored twice on passes to wide receivers Eric Walker and Aiona Key, Saddleback retaliated with two scores of their own, first a 41-yard run by sophomore running back Cheyne Verhagen and then a 16-yard pass to Maurice Clark.
Despite the back-to-back scores the Gauchos’ offense couldn’t get anything going as they were outscored by the Mounties, 20-0, until the fourth quarter.
With a team that is ranked third in the conference in rushing averaging 202.9 yards rushing a game, Saddleback only ran for 87 yards Saturday night.Freshman Micah Abreu-Leybon led the team with 63 yards rushing on eight carries.
Having come back in previous games, the Gauchos didn’t have an answer to the Mounties defense as they were held to nine total offensive yards in the quarter.
“I told the team at halftime that we’ve been in this situation before and, in fact, we have been even in worse situations,” said head coach Mark McElroy. “We usually do well in the third quarter and we struggled in this one.”
Quarterback Sebastian Trujilo started his third straight game with Brian Shrock out with an injury and struggled, passing 20-40 with only one touchdown pass and three interceptions.
Even though scoring twice in the fourth quarter and receiving an onside kick, a chance of a comeback was shattered when Trujilo was intercepted for a third time with 52 seconds left.
“We just made too many mistakes in all phases of the game in order to win tonight,” McElroy said. “They never gave up. I’m proud with the performance this year and it’s not over yet.”
Even though losing their final game, Saddleback only moved down two spots to No. 5 in the California Community College regional football poll for Southern California.
With the top eight teams making the playoffs, the Gauchos will face No. 4 ranked College of the Canyons on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.
Saddleback knows what it has to do as it enters the postseason.
“We just have to continue to get better and prepare for the next game,” Crapo said. “I hate losing to these guys, but I know we can play better. We have a good football team and on any given night, when we play all as a group ,we can beat anybody.