Clay Saves The Day For Mt. SAC

Moments after allowing the go-ahead touchdown, Mt. San Antonio got an incredible 78-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that lifted the Mounties to an amazing 33-32 win over visiting Citrus in the National Division - Central Conference opener for both teams Saturday night in Walnut.

Clay scored his second touchdown of the night just 19 seconds after Citrus' Larry Cutbirth took advantage of a roughing-the-passer penalty that kept the Owl drive alive and tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brayton Newton with 1:44 remaining that seemed to give Citrus a dramatic victory.

But in a game that saw the lead go back and forth all night, that 1:44 proved to be more than enough time for Clay to change the scoreboard again. Kicker Jaime Toscano squibbed the kick down the right hashmarks. Clay picked the ball up at his own 22, then ran to his right, where he was seemingly surrounded by several Owl tacklers. But then Clay reversed his field, running back towards the Citrus sideline, around the Owl coverage and down the hashmarks for an incredible 78-yard game-winning kickoff return.

There was a flag on the play - which had to give Mt. SAC supporters some anxiety, given that the Mounties seemed to have the game won about a minute earlier when a 4th down pass by Cutbirth fell incomplete, only to have the play negated by the roughing-the-passer penalty. But this time the flag was against Citrus, and Clay's return stood. Donald Hageman's extra point moments later made it 33-32, lifting the Mounties to their third straight win.

All that was just the final chapter of an excellent game between two very evenly-matched teams. The CCCAA poll had the teams tied for 3rd in the National Division, and the teams spent three-plus hours proving that analysis to be remarkably accurate. The difference in the game proved to be the slightest of margins, but the spectacular playmaking ability of Clay was the determining factor.

Clay also scored a touchdown in the final minute of the first half on a 12-yard pass from Rocky Moore, giving Mt. SAC a 23-17 halftime lead. But he also had a bit of a mixed night, losing the ball on a first-half fumble after Citrus linebacker Maurice Dupleasis jarred the ball free with his helmet (Kenyatta Johnson recovered for the Owls) and losing 7 yards on a first-half punt return as he tried to break free of Owl coverage. But the same elusiveness that worked against him in the first half was what allowed him to break free for the game-winning kickoff return after appearing to be surrounded at about his own 20 yard-line.

Mt. San Antonio scored the game's first touchdown when Justin Alo - who split quarterback duties with starter Moore - scored on a 1-yard run midway through the first quarter. Citrus answered with a rather strange drive that included two pass interference penalties on Mt. SAC and a do-over when an inadvertent whistle negated what would have been a 20-yard run by Cutbirth. Cutbirth's 17-yard scoring pass to Donovan Holmes with 4:30 left in the first quarter tied the score 7-7.

Mt. SAC took a 10-7 lead on a 41-yard field goal by Hageman on the final play of the first quarter after a short drive highlighted by a 15-yard scramble by Moore. The Mounties got a break a little later when a botched halfback option pass by Citrus' Donovan Holmes was intercepted by Elisha Henley at the Mounties' 23. Three plays later, Moore threw a short pass to Romell Smothers, who broke two tackles before speeding down the left sideline for a 74-yard touchdown reception that made it 16-7.

Citrus answered with a 10-play, 74-yard drive that ended with Cutbirth throwing his second touchdown pass of the night, a 25-yard scoring strike to Joseph Henderson with 5:43 left in the half. Then on the ensuing kickoff, a squib kick resulted in a loose ball that Nick Todorovich recovered for the Owls at the Mt. SAC 37. That led to a 31-yard field goal by Toscano, but it could have been much worse for Mt. SAC as the Owls reached the 1 yard-line before a 12-yard sack by Henley forced the Owls to settle for the field goal.

On the next kickoff, Toscano's low kick hit one of the Mt. SAC blockers around the 50 yard-line, and Austin Bogner recovered for the Mounties at the Citrus 48. That led to an 8-play drive that concluded with Clay's 12-yard touchdown reception from Moore to put Mt. SAC back in front, 23-17, at the half.

The only scoring play of the third quarter came on the first drive of the second half when Citrus completed a 10-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard scoring run by Cutbirth. Toscano's extra point gave the Owls a 24-23 lead. But Mt. SAC went back in front just over a minute into the fourth quarter on a 37-yard field goal by Hageman. That made it 26-24, which is where the score stayed for more than 12 minutes, before the wild finish.

Citrus got the ball witih 6:46 left at its own 30 before driving for the go-ahead score. An 11-yard run by Cutbirth got the ball into Mt. SAC territory, and a defensive holding penalty moved it to the 30. But three plays later Citrus faced a 4th and 7, and their drive appeared over when Cutbirth's fourth-down pass fell incomplete. However, Mt. SAC was flagged for roughing the passer, and Citrus took advantage of its second chance with Cutbirth's touchdown pass to Newton with 1:44 left.

After Clay's game-winning return, Citrus had one last chance to re-take the lead, needing only a field goal, and appeared to drive into Mt. SAC territory with about 40 seconds to go. But a lineman downfield penalty negated what would have been a first down, and on the next play Tuivasa Maloata chased down Cutbirth and tackled him for a 14-yard sack. Citrus, out of timeouts, was unable to get lined up and run another play before time ran out.

For Mt. SAC, Moore completed 15 of 26 passes for 223 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. He was the passing half of the QB tandem, with Alo leading all rushers with 51 yards and a score from 13 carries as the running half of the QB tandem. Jamal Overton had 36 yards on 12 carries. Smothers had 3 catches for 85 yards and Clay had 3 catches for 65 yards; each had a receiving touchdown. The Mt. SAC defense registered 6 quarterback sacks on the night and held Citrus to a net of just 68 yards rushing. And of course Clay had the play of the game on special teams.

For Citrus, Cutbirth completed 24 of 37 passes for 248 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. Scott Calles led all receivers with 8 catches for 93 yards, and Holmes had 7 catches for 55 yards as well as 13 carries for 40 yards rushing. Dupleasis and Kenyatta Johnson led the Owl defense, with Dupleasis forcing one fumble and recovering another, and Johnson recovering a fumble and registering a quarterback sack.

The win is Mt. SAC's third straight after an opening-week loss to Saddleback. Citrus falls to 3-1 after starting the season with 3 straight wins.

Mt. San Antonio Mounties 33, Citrus Owls 32

Saturday, September 28, 2013 - 6 pm - Hilmer Lodge Stadium, Walnut
National Division - Central Conference

1st Quarter:
M - Alo 1 yd run (Hageman kick) 7:46 (7-0)
C - Holmes 17 yd pass from Cutbirth (Toscano kick) 4:30 (7-7)
M - FG Hageman 41 yds 0:00 (10-7)

2nd Quarter:
M - Smothers 74 yd pass from Moore (kick blocked) 10:05 (16-7)
C - Henderson 25 yd pass from Cutbirth (Toscano kick) 5:43 (16-14)
C - FG Toscano 31 yds 2:24 (16-17)
M - Clay 12 yd pass from Moore (Hageman kick) 0:41 (23-17)

3rd Quarter:
C - Cutbirth 2 yd run (Toscano kick) 11:04 (23-24)

4th Quarter:
M - FG Hageman 37 yds 13:58 (26-24)
C - Newton 4 yd pass from Cutbirth (Barr pass from Cutbirth) 1:44 (26-32)
M - Clay 78 yd kickoff return (Hageman kick) 1:25 (33-32)

Team Statistics:

First Downs: Mt. SAC 16 (8 rush, 6 pass, 2 penalty), Citrus 24 (6 rush, 13 pass, 5 penalty)
Rushes-Yds: Mt. SAC 30-104, Citrus 40-68
Passing Yds: Mt. SAC 257, Citrus 248
Comp-Att-Int: Mt. SAC 16-29-1, Citrus 24-38-1
Return Yds: Mt. SAC 109, Citrus 102
Sacks-Yds: Mt. SAC 6-50, Citrus 1-5
Fumbles-Lost: Mt. SAC 3-3, Citrus 1-0
Penalties-Yds: Mt. SAC 12-122, Citrus 9-73
Time of Possession: Mt. SAC 22:58, Citrus 37:02

Individual Statistics:

Rushing: M 6-Alo 13-51, 20-Overton 12-36, 18-Moore 3-13, 1-Clay 1-3, 24-Quiocho 1-1; C 4-Holmes 13-40, 81-C.Johnson 4-20, 23-Henderson 6-17, 45-Vargas 1-0, 13-Cameron 1-(-1), 2-Cutbirth 14-(-19)
Passing: M 18-Moore 15-26-1-223, 2 TDs; 6-Alo 1-3-0-34; C 2-Cutbirth 24-37-0-248, 3 TDs; 4-Holmes 0-1-1-0
Receiving: M 10-Smothers 3-85, 1-Clay 3-65, 8-Dotson 3-44, 82-Gilchrist 2-26, 88-Rhodes 2-10, 13-Stolden 1-27, 80-Perry-Kruse 1-3, 14-Simpson 1-(-3); C 18-Calles 8-93, 4-Holmes 7-55, 1-Barr 3-59, 14-Newton 3-14, 23-Henderson 2-28, 7-Williams 1-(-1)
Interceptions-Ret Yds: M 2-Henley 1-0; C 20-Brown 1-7
Fumble Rec: M none; C 36-K.Johnson, 40-Todorovich, 50-Dupleasis
Sacks-Yds: M 91-Maloata 1-14, 2-Henley 1-12, 7-Lindsey 1-8, 92-Kaiwi 1-6, 96-Fa'aloua 1-4, team 1-6; C 36-K.Johnson 1-5
Punters: M 62-Hageman 2-38.5 avg; C 63-Barnes 3-45.7 avg
Kick Returns: M 1-Clay 1-78, 20-Overton 2-22, 25-Poggi 1-12, 49-Thorpay 1-4; C 22-Cruikshank 2-47, 1-Barr 1-24, 4-Holmes 1-17
Punt Returns: M 1-Clay 1-(-7); C 43-Frazier 1-7
Missed FG: M 62-Hageman 38 yds (wide left); C 64-Toscano 39 yds (wide right)

Notes: The teams entered tied for 3rd in SoCal in the CCCAA poll. Both teams are now 3-1 but this was the National-Central opener. Moore started at QB for Mt. SAC; Alo also took a couple dozen snaps mixed in along the way. Dupleasis caused the fumble that Johnson recovered; 11-Kegans forced the fumble that Dupleasis recovered. Citrus' 1st TD came on a drive that featured 2 PI penalties on Mt. SAC and a do-over after an inadvertent whistle that negated a 20-yd run by Cutbirth. Holmes' pass for Citrus was a halfback option pass that Henley intercepted, Smothers' TD came three plays later. Citrus squibbed several kicks, including one after its 2nd TD, which Todorovich recovered; that led to the Citrus FG. Citrus' go-ahead drive appeared dead after an incomplete pass on 4th down but a roughing the passer penalty kept the drive alive; Newton scored four plays later. But then Clay took the ensuing kickoff, ran right, appeared surrounded, went back left and broke free for the game-winning score. Citrus got the ball one last time but never crossed midfield, and the 14-yd sack by Maloata ended the game.

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