Saddleback Tops El Camino in OT Thriller

Cheyne Verhagen's 4-yard TD run in OT gave visiting Saddleback (8-1) a 37-34 win in a key Mission Conf. National Division showdown over El Camino (7-2) November 6.  Verhagen's scoring run, his second of the game, finished a topsy-turvy game that included a stirring comeback by El Camino to overcome a 9-point 4th quarter deficit, a game-tying field goal by Saddleback's Derik Martinez in the final seconds of regulation & 300-yard passing performances by both teams' starting quarterbacks.

That's not to mention the numerous big plays on both sides of the ball.

This was one of the most-anticipated games of the season with two quality teams competing and so much on the line, and it managed not just to live up to the hype but surpass it.  And with the win, Saddleback takes command of the Mission Conference's National Division, needing only to beat Pasadena at home next week to claim the crown and a possible #1 seed in the Southern California playoffs. 

It started off with El Camino trying a flea-flicker on its first play from scrimmage, but with less than stellar results.  RB Brian Flowers took the handoff from QB Don Poole, then stopped and pitched the ball back to Poole, who then threw downfield.  But Saddleback wasn't fooled by the handoff, and was in perfect position to defense the pass.  In fact, when the ball came down, it landed in the hands of Gaucho defender Rasheed Prescott.  But Saddleback was unable to take advantage of their early break; after a drive to the El Camino 26, Martinez' 43-yard field goal attempt was wide right, keeping the game scoreless.

When they got the ball back, El Camino drove the length of the field to take an early 7-0 lead, only to see Saddleback answer back and tie the score.  Poole threw a 19-yard pass to Nick Haley to get the drive started, and then threw a 33-yard pass to Damian Bryant (helped by a big downfield block from Laferrell Payne) to get the ball deep into Gaucho territory.  Nick Alaimalo took it the final yard, following the blocking of 290-pound guard/fullback Sete Aulai into the end zone.  But Saddleback answered back with a 5-play drive, with much of the yardage coming from Verhagen.  The Gaucho RB broke off a 32-yard run to get to the Warrior 12, and then he scored on the next play to tie the game 7-7.

The only score of the second quarter came on a long drive by El Camino.  Backup QB Nick Emmons entered the game and provided a new angle by running the ball and picking up 6 yards on each of his first two carries.  He also proved adept at passing, completing all three of his attempts on the drive including a pair of completions to Haley.  The drive ended when Emmons connected with J.R. Moala from 4 yards out to give El Camino a 13-7 lead with 3:28 to play in the half.  But in a sign of trouble to come, El Camino failed to convert the extra point when Saddleback's Zach Clarke broke through the line and blocked the kick.

In the third quarter, Saddleback scored a pair of touchdowns to take a 21-13 lead after an El Camino fumble was recovered by Scott Lee at the Warrior 21.  On the next play, QB Colt Brennan threw a TD pass to Matt White, and when Martinez kicked the extra point Saddleback had its first lead of the game at 14-13.  Following an El Camino punt, Saddleback pushed its lead to 21-13 when WR Mike Atiba took a handoff on an end-around play and sped 58 yards into the end zone for the score.  Another Martinez extra point gave Saddleback an 8-point lead with 7:01 left in the third quarter.

But Saddleback would soon have its own troubles with the kicking game, and that would allow El Camino to cut into the lead.  Following an El Camino punt, Saddleback got the ball at its own 20 but soon faced a 4th and 2 at the 28.  Andrew Larsen went back to punt for the Gauchos, but his kick was blocked by El Camino's Reggie Doucet, and Nate Ness picked up the bouncing ball for the Warriors at the 6-yard line and carried it in for the score to make it 21-19.  El Camino elected to try for 2 points on the conversion to tie the game, but Poole was hit as he threw and his pass fell just short of Haley, leaving Saddleback in the lead. 

When Saddleback got the ball back, they got one first down on a 17-yard pass from Brennan to TE James Webster, but soon faced 4th and 8 at their own 47.  Punter Larson took the snap, but seemed to look up at the last moment to see if the rush was on and the ball slipped through his hands.  Larson was able to recover the ball, but he was tackled at the 30, giving El Camino excellent field position.  And the Warriors got even closer on the next play when Poole threw to Haley for a 25-yard gain to the Gaucho 5-yard line.  But then El Camino made a costly mistake that allowed Saddleback to keep the lead when Alaimalo fumbled on the next play and LB Paul Como recovered for the Gauchos.

As the clock wound down, Saddleback still held a lead, and the Gauchos extended their advantage to 28-19 when Brennan threw a 34-yard TD pass to Jerard Rabb with 7:46 left in the fourth quarter.  Rabb had been held in check much of the night by El Camino's Steven Akarim, but on this play he got behind the entire defense and caught the pass in stride to give Saddleback what appeared to be a very big lead.

But the Warriors have become experts at making the big comeback after overcoming a 12-point lead in the final minutes two weeks ago vs. Fullerton and a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter in an eventual overtime loss to Pasadena.  And this comeback would get a jump start from a pair of Saddleback penalties.  First, there was an excessive celebration call after Rabb's touchdown, and the Warriors were able to return the ensuing kickoff to their own 45.  Then came a personal foul on Saddleback to move the ball to the Gaucho 40.  On the next play, Poole hooked up with star WR Payne for a 40-yard TD pass to make it 28-25.  But Branden Jones' extra point attempt sailed wide to the left, keeping Saddleback in front by 3 points. 

When the Gauchos got the ball back, the Warrior defense was fired up and held the Saddleback offense to just 5 yards in the next 3 plays, forcing a punt.  And when El Camino got the ball back, they marched down the field in an effort to tie the game or even take the lead.  Then Poole threw a 36-yard pass to Haley to get the ball to the Saddleback 29.  Then came a 16-yard toss to Payne to get to the 13.  After a delay of game call against the Warriors, a 4-yard run by Flowers and an incomplete pass, El Camino called a timeout to plan their third-down play.  And apparently the plan worked to perfection as Poole lofted a pass into the left corner of the end zone and Payne made a nice running grab to give El Camino a 31-28 lead with less than two minutes to play.  The jubilant Warrior mood was dampened a little on the extra point though as Jones' kick sailed wide to the right. 

That left Saddleback 1:52 in which to get a field goal for the tie or a touchdown to win the game.  Robin Owens got the Gauchos started with a nice return that got the ball out to the Saddleback 36.  But the drive nearly ended quickly as Brennan's first 3 passes fell incomplete, forcing a 4th and 10.  On 4th down, however, Brennan found Quincy Lever for a 15-yard completion and a first down at the El Camino 49.  On the next play, that combination produced a 13-yard gain to the Warrior 36.  Then came an 11-yard toss to Rabb to the 25.  After an incomplete pass on first down, Brennan threw a short pass to Rabb on second down that got the ball to the El Camino 16.  However, the clock was down to under 15 seconds and Brennan spiked the ball to stop the clock with 8 seconds left, bringing up 4th and 1 at the 16.  On came Martinez to attempt the game-tying field goal.  And though El Camino used its final 2 timeouts in an effort to ice him, the Saddleback kicker came through with a perfect kick to tie the game with 3 seconds left and send the contest to overtime.

Saddleback won the toss, which forced El Camino to take the ball first in the extra session.  A 3-yard pass from Poole to William Boyd got the ball to the 22, and an 8-yard run by Moala got the Warriors a first down at the 14.  Bryant then carried the ball another 5 yards to get the Warriors inside the 10, but then the drive stalled.  Facing a 4th and 1 at the 5, El Camino made the call to ask Jones to kick a 22-yard field goal to give the Warriors the lead.  After missing 3 extra points during regulation time, it was hardly a chip-shot for the kicker.  But Jones came through, nailing the field goal and giving El Camino a 34-31 lead.

And for a brief moment, it looked like that field goal would hold up as the winning score.  On Saddleback's first play of its overtime possession, Brennan drifted back to pass but was soon pressured.  As the defense pursued him, he kept running backwards until DE Moses Manu finally corralled him at the 45 for a 20-yard loss.  That gave Saddleback a 2nd down and 30.  Brennan faded back again, but this time threw a short screen pass to Verhagen, who found some blocking and burst down the left sideline for a 37-yard gain.  The large Saddleback cheering section went wild as the Gauchos picked up an improbable first down to keep their victory hopes alive.  On the next play, Brennan carried around the left side for 4 yards.  And then Verhagen took a handoff and squirted through the middle of the defense and into the end zone for the winning score.

There were a lot of standout performances on both teams in this one, but top billing has to go to Verhagen, who led all rushers with 114 yards and had the key 37-yard pass reception.  Brennan finished 22 of 35 for 309 yards and 2 TDs.  Rabb and Lever each caught 6 passes to lead Gaucho receivers.  And not to be overlooked is their place kicker Martinez, who made all 4 of his extra point tries and nailed the game-tying field goal in the final seconds to force overtime.

For El Camino, Poole completed 21 of 34 passes for 304 yards and 2 TDs.  Payne had another huge game with 6 catches for 111 yards and a pair of TDs, both in the final 8 minutes as El Camino rallied from the 9-point deficit to take the lead.  The speedy Haley had a big night as well with 5 catches for 103 yards and also returned a punt for 17 yards.  And on defense, Aaron Yarbrough had 3 sacks while Manu had 2 sacks and a fumble recovery.

Saddleback will face Pasadena, a 3-6 team but one that beat El Camino last week, in its season finale.  Meanwhile, El Camino will try to break its 2-game losing streak when the Warriors travel to Santa Ana to face the Dons.

Scoring Summary

1st Quarter:
EC – Alaimalo 1 yd run (Jones kick) 2:34 -- 0-7
S – Verhagen 12 yd run (Martinez kick) 0:28 -- 7-7

2nd Quarter:
EC – Moala 4 yd pass from Emmons (kick blocked) 3:28 -- 7-13 

3rd Quarter:
S – White 21 yd pass from Brennan (Martinez kick) 10:46 -- 14-13
S – Atiba 58 yd run (Martinez kick) 7:01 -- 21-13
EC – Ness 6 yd return of blocked punt (pass failed) 1:56 -- 21-19

4th Quarter:
S – Rabb 34 yd pass from Brennan (Martinez kick) 7:46 -- 28-19
EC – Payne 40 yd pass from Poole (kick wide left) 7:27 -- 28-25
EC – Payne 14 yd pass from Poole (kick wide right) 1:52 -- 28-31
S – FG Martinez 33 yds 0:03 -- 31-31

EC – FG Jones 22 yds -- 31-34
S – Verhagen 4 yd run (no conversion try) -- 37-34

Team Statistics: El Camino Saddleback
First Downs 21 (5 run; 15 pass; 1 pen) 20 (5 run; 14 pass; 1 pen)
Rushes – Yards 33-86 34-107
Passing Yards 331 309
Comp - Att – Int 24-39-2 22-36-0
Return Yards 72 134
Sacks – Yards 5-40 1-1
Fumbles – Lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties – Yards 13-85 7-67
Time of Possession 28:45 31:15

Individual Statistics:

Rushing: E:  4-Flowers 16-45, 12-Emmons 4-14, 35-Moala 1-8, 3-Poole 2-6, 6-Bryant 3-5, 37-G-Lyles 2-4, 31-Alaimalo 5-4 S:  27-Verhagen 21-114, 31-Atiba 2-61, 35-Como 1-5, 17-Larsen 1-(-17), 15-Brennan 8-(-35), team 1-(-21)

Passing: E:  3-Poole 21-34-2-304, 2 TDs; 12-Emmons 3-5-0-27, 1 TD S:  15-Brennan 22-35-0-309, 2 TDs; team 0-1-0-0

Receiving: E:  18-Payne 6-111, 2-Haley 5-103, 35-Moala 4-25, 5-Boyd 4-23, 17-Sanford 2-19, 6-Bryant 1-33, 37-G-Lyles 1-10 S:  1-Rabb 6-80, 21-Lever 6-67, 10-White 3-35, 44-Webster 3-29, 6-Peterson 2-53, 27-Verhagen 2-45

Int-Ret Yds: E:  none S:  4-Prescott 1-0, 24-Mitchell 1-0                               

Sacks: E:  49-Yarbrough 3-19, 85-Manu 2-21 S:  52-Clarke 1-1

Fum Rec: E:  85-Manu S:  35-Como, 52-Lee

Punters: E:  13-Dragich 3-38.7 avg S:  17-Larson 4-38.3 avg + 1 blk

Kick Ret: E:  37-G-Lyles 3-15, 4-Flowers 1-12 S:  83-Owens 3-66, 31-Atiba 2-54

Punt Ret: E:  24-Doucet 1-22, 2-Haley 1-17, 32-Ness 0-6 S:  3-Moon 2-14

Missed FG: E:  none S:  14-Martinez 43 (wide right)

Notes:  Saddleback entered 7-1, #6 in South.  El Camino entered 7-1, #5 in South.  EC's 1st play was a flea-flicker…and an int by Prescott.  Poole started at QB for EC; Emmons ent. in the 2nd qtr for 1 series and played sporadically after that.  Doucet blocked the punt which Ness recovered for the TD.  A jittery Larson dropped the snap on his next punt play; that's his rush attempt.  Clarke blocked the XPA for Saddleback.  Atiba's TD came on an end-around play. 


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