Mt. SAC Survives Comet Comeback

Just when it looked like #1-ranked and unbeaten Mt. San Antonio was in complete control of the game Saturday, Palomar stormed back with a pair of touchdowns and had a pair of chances to draw even or take the lead before Tevita Pula's interception in the final minute squelched the rally and gave the Mounties their 16th straight win.

For much of the afternoon, Mt. SAC seemed in control of things. Nick Lamaison threw three touchdown passes to stake the Mounties to a lead, and the Mt. SAC defense allowed just a single field goal through nearly three quarters, and had held Palomar to a net of minus-34 yards rushing well into the second half.

But Palomar, seemingly sparked by a trick play similar to the famous Music City Miracle (by the Tennessee Titans in the 2000 NFL playoffs), stormed back with a pair of touchdowns to cut the deficit to just three points. This is the same Palomar team that rallied from 15 points down in the fourth quarter against El Camino to win over the then-unbeaten Warriors. And the Comets got the ball back twice more in the final 7:12 before the Mounties finally put the game away with Pula's interception with 53 seconds left on the clock.

Mt. SAC built its lead slowly but methodically, helped by the fact that its defense dominated the line of scrimmage and kept Palomar from threatening to score for most of the first three quarters. Lamaison capped an 8-play, 73-drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Molina-Williams for the only score of the first quarter, giving Mt. SAC a 7-0 lead.

Then Mt. SAC increased its lead to 13-0 with 8:59 left in the second quarter. The Mounties faced a 3rd and short situation, but Marcus Wagner, following the blocking of 320-pound Defensive Tackle-turned-Fullback Hallel Duberry, picked up the first down with a 4-yard run. On the next play, Lamaison threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Michael Edwards to give Mt. SAC a two-touchdown lead.

Palomar got a field goal from Roman Ferreria with 3:09 left in the half to cut the margin to 13-3. But when the second half started, neither team scored again until Lamaison threw his third touchdown pass of the day, a quick-hitting 4-yard strike to Derrick Ross with 5:40 left in the third quarter. That came moments after a 53-yard pass to Edwards, and seemed to put the Mounties in control with a three-score lead.

To that point, Palomar had minus-34 yards rushing and had barely even threatened to score. On the ensuing kickoff, Ricciardulli took the kick and ran to the 17, at which point he stopped and threw the ball across the field to his left to Butler at the 15. Butler made it to the 33 before he was tackled.

That seemed to inspire the Comets, and Ricciardulli in particular. The 5-8, 181-pound sophomore carried the ball 7 times on what became an 8-play drive, scoring on a 4-yard run to make it 20-10 with 1:34 left in the third quarter.

Palomar punted the next time it got the ball, but then the Comets forced another Mt. SAC punt and regained possession with 12:16 left. Quarterback Nate Ong completed three straight passes to Pat Cashman for a total of 39 yards to move the Comets down the field, and then Tyrese Jones broke free for a 26-yard touchdown run to make it 20-17 with 9:41 left in the fourth quarter.

With so much time left, it seemed Palomar had the momentum and a real chance of upsetting #1-ranked and defending national champion Mt. SAC. Then the Comet defense forced another punt, giving the offense the ball at its own 9 with 7:12 left. Palomar gained just one first down before having to punt, but the defense again forced a Mt. SAC punt, and Palomar got the ball back one more time at its own 14 with 2:14 left.

On that last-chance drive, Palomar got a first down when Ong threw a 10-yard pass to Geoff Akpom to the Comet 26. But after an incomplete pass, Ong's final pass of the day was intercepted by Pula at the Palomar 38, finally ending any thoughts of a Palomar comeback.

For Mt. SAC, Lamaison completed 19 of 37 passes for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns despite being visibly hobbled by an apparent injury to his left leg most of the day. Edwards caught 5 passes for a game-high 140 yards, but Lamaison spread the ball around as usual, completing passes to ten different receivers on the day. Vaikalafi Luti and, of course, Pula, were the standouts of a Mt. SAC defense that controlled the line much of the day and then came up big when the game was on the line.

For Palomar, Ong completed 24 of 35 passes for 202 yards. Ricciardulli had 12 carries for a net of 48 yards, all of which were accounted for on the key touchdown drive, but that was a game-high rushing total on a day when rushing yards were tough to come by for both teams.

The win was the 16th straight for Mt. San Antonio, a new school record, and dates back to a 24-14 loss to Saddleback on September 27, 2009.

Mt. San Antonio Mounties 20
Palomar Comets 17

Saturday, October 16, 2010 - 1 pm - Hilmer Lodge Stadium - Walnut
National Division - Southern Conference

1st Quarter:
M - Molina-Williams 14 yd pass from Lamaison (J.Brown kick) 3:59 (7-0)

2nd Quarter:
M - Edwards 40 yd pass from Lamaison (kick blocked) 8:59 (13-0)
P - FG Ferreira 36 yds 3:09 (13-3)

3rd Quarter:
M - Ross 4 yd pass from Lamaison (J.Brown kick) 5:40 (20-3)
P - Ricciardulli 4 yd run (Ferreira kick) 1:34 (20-10)

4th Quarter:
P - Jones 26 yd run (Ferreira kick) 9:41 (20-17)

Team Statistics:
First Downs: Mt. SAC 14 (3 rush, 10 pass, 1 penalty), Palomar 17 (4 rush, 8 pass, 5 penalty)
Rushes-Yds: Mt. SAC 34-75, Palomar 31-43
Passing Yds: Mt. SAC 269, Palomar 202
Comp-Att-Int: Mt. SAC 19-37-0, Palomar 24-39-1
Return Yds: Mt. SAC 99, Palomar 79
Sacks-Yds: Mt. SAC 5-36, Palomar 1-5
Fumbles-Lost: Mt. SAC 0-0, Palomar 2-0
Penalties-Yds: Mt. SAC 14-114, Palomar 8-52
Time of Possession: Mt. SAC 27:14, Palomar 32:46

Individual Statistics:
Rushing: Mt. SAC 3-McBride 17-33, 30-Wagner 8-31, 32-Botello 4-20, 22-Umebayashi 1-(-2), 7-Lamaison 1-(-5), team 3-(-6); Palomar 5-Ricciardulli 12-48, 1-Jones 8-26, 17-Murray 1-(-3), 26-Worden 1-(-9), 2-Ong 9-(-19)
Passing: Mt. SAC 7-Lamaison 19-37-0-269, 3 TDs; Palomar 2-Ong 24-35-1-202; 7-Fisher 0-1-0-0; 17-Murray 0-3-0-0
Receiving: Mt. SAC 6-Edwards 5-140, 4-Torres-Keohokapu 2-28, 14-Harrell 2-19, 19-Masifilio 2-15, 15-Iaea 2-10, 1-Brun 2-5, 81-Agwuenu 1-21, 84-Molina-Williams 1-14, 3-McBride 1-13, 82-Ross 1-4; Palomar 84-Westbrooks 5-47, 15-Akpom 4-58, 19-Cashman 4-45, 3-Reynolds 4-13, 1-Jones 2-16, 82-Butler 2-8, 9-Uptgrow 1-6, 85-Laws 1-6, 6-Head 1-3
Interceptions-Ret Yds: Mt SAC 31-Pula 1-6; Palomar none
Fumble Rec: none
Sacks-Yds: Mt. SAC 96-Lutui 2-21, 31-Pula 2-11, 9-Payne 1-4; Palomar 70-Hielscher 1-5
Punters: Mt. SAC 88-Colby 8-44.3 avg, 71-Highley 1-20 + 1 blk; Palomar 88-York 9-39.9 avg
Kick Returns:  Mt. SAC 4-Torres-Keohokapu 2-41, 3-McBride 2-37; Palomar 5-Ricciardulli 2-32, 82-Butler 1-18
Punt Returns: Mt. SAC 46-Lomu 5-15; Palomar 10-McNally 1-17, 19-Cashman 4-12
Missed FG: Mt. SAC none; Palomar 18-Ferreira 45 yds (wide left)
Notes: Conference opener for both teams. Mt. SAC entered ranked #1 in the state and the nation and improves to 6-0; Palomar entered ranked #8 in the South and falls to 3-3. The blocked punt was low and into the line but it appeared to hit McNally so he gets the credit. 8-Willis blocked the extra point for Palomar. Mt. SAC seemed in control in the 3rd, leading 20-3, at which point Palomar had -34 net yards rushing. But on the kickoff after Mt. SAC's last TD, Palomar used a trick play (lateral from Ricciardulli to Butler) that got the ball to the 33 and seemed to spark the offense, especially Ricciardulli, who had 48 rushing yards on the ensuing drive. Palomar got the ball back twice in the final 7:12 but had to punt once and then Pula's interception with 53 seconds left sealed the win for Mt. SAC. This is Mt. SAC's 16th straight win, a new school record.

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