The showdown between two of the top programs in Southern California was also a first-round playoff game in the SCFA postseason tournament. And the host Warriors entered seeded 4th in the playoff field, as well as 5th in the nation according to the JC Grid-Wire. Meanwhile, Saddleback entered as the 5th seed and held 13th in the most recent JC Grid-Wire rankings.
And despite a horrific start for the home team, the game proved to be as close as the seedings would suggest it would be. With El Camino trying to run out the clock while holding a 24-21 lead with under 4 minutes left but facing a 3rd and 8, the pivotal play of the game occurred, the outcome of which depended on a matter of inches.
James Coy, who threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score on a 72-yard run in the second quarter to lead his team back from the 21-0 deficit, threw towards the left sideline on the fateful 3rd down play. Saddleback safety Jeremy Rodenburg read the play, and closed on the ball. A mere tipped ball would have resulted in an incomplete pass and forced El Camino to punt the ball away. Just an interception would have given the Gauchos the ball deep in El Camino territory while trailing by just a field goal. And as there was no Warriors between Rodenburg and the goal line, an interception might well have resulted in a Saddleback touchdown, giving the Gauchos a lead.
But the ball missed Rodenburg’s fingers by a few inches, and instead went to the intended receiver, Kembrell Thompkins. Thompkins then not only made the catch, but eluded the remainder of the Saddleback secondary and took the ball 72 yards for a touchdown that put El Camino in control of the game.
And yet that was just one of many big plays in this one, though it was clearly the play with the biggest impact. Saddleback jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, largely as a result of El Camino mistakes. Then El Camino rallied to tie the game at the half, largely due to the efforts of Coy. A 44-yard field goal by 5-foot-4 kicker Brian Blumberg gave El Camino a lead early in the third quarter, and that still stood as the difference in the game before Thompkins’ pivotal touchdown. And even after that, Saddleback managed a late touchdown to make it a 3-point game with just over a minute left, and El Camino only secured the win when Dejarrius Adams recovered the ensuing onsides kick with 1:03 left.
Early on, Saddleback took advantage of several El Camino miscues to build what looked like an enormous 21-point lead. The Gauchos punted the ball away after just one first down on their first possession, but the El Camino offense sabotaged itself with consecutive false start penalties on 3rd down and had to punt the ball back moments later. And when Matt Garcia returned that punt 23 yards to the Warrior 23, the Gauchos were in prime scoring position. Five plays later, Brian Shrock threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Nick Hutter to give Saddleback a 7-0 lead just 5:11 into the game.
After another exchange of punts, it just got worse for El Camino. The Warriors’ Sione Tuli caught a short pass from Coy but fumbled moments later, and Saddleback’s Jon Loynes recovered the ball at the Warrior 24. On the next play, Shrock threw a touchdown pass to Hutter in the back left corner of the end zone to make it 14-0.
And on the next play from scrimmage, disaster struck again for El Camino. Coy had his head turned towards the sideline when the shotgun snap arrived and the ball whistled past his helmet. By the time the loose ball recovered, the pileup was at the El Camino 3 and Saddleback’s Luis Bustos was on the ball. On the next play, Jay Wisner scored on a 3-yard run to make it 21-0 with 4:05 left in the first quarter.
But then El Camino rallied, led by Coy and the Warrior defense, and tied the game in the second quarter. The 6-1 sophomore quarterback completed 5 passes as the Warriors put together a 9-play, 81-yard drive and got on the board with a 14-yard touchdown pass to William Bullock in the first minute of the second quarter. Then, after a quick Saddleback punt, Coy led the Warriors on another 9-play drive, completing 4 passes this time, including a 19-yard scoring strike to Tuli that made it 21-14 with 9:34 left in the second quarter.
After that, Saddleback held the ball for over five minutes and drove deep into El Camino territory, threatening to again push its lead into double figures. But the drive stalled at the Warrior 9, sending kicker Christian Lepore onto the field to attempt a 26-yard field goal. However, the El Camino defense then came up with a huge play when Michael Harris broke in from the right side of the defensive line and got a finger on the ball, tipping it just wide of the right goal post and keeping the Warriors within seven points.
Two plays later, El Camino was even. After an 8-yard pass to Tuli on first down, Coy dropped back to pass again on second down. But this time he pulled the ball down and took off on a quarterback draw. After eluding one defender near the line, he went the rest of the distance untouched, tying the game with a 72-yard touchdown run.
When the second half began, El Camino took the kickoff and eventually took the lead on Blumberg’s 44-yard field goal. A 23-yard pass from Coy to Tuli, followed by a 14-yard pass to Bullock got the Warriors into scoring position, and Blumberg’s kick went just over the crossbar to give El Camino a lead it would nurse through most of the second half.
After that kick, neither team scored for nearly twenty-five minutes of playing time. El Camino appeared to score on a long pass to Tuli late in the third quarter, but the end of that run was negated by a penalty and the Warriors ended up turning the ball over on downs. And early in the fourth quarter, Saddleback drove deep into Warrior territory, but Lepore appeared to slip as he planted on a would-be game-tying 30-yard field goal and missed badly, keeping the score 24-21 in favor of the Warriors.
That’s where things stood when Saddleback got the ball back with nine minutes remaining. Mark Berry had gotten a finger on an El Camino punt, resulting in a 16-yard kick that gave the Gauchos the ball at the Warrior 44. And with the season on the line, the Gauchos pulled out all the tricks, trying a flea-flicker (which resulted in a 15-yard pass from Shrock to Charles Neal), a Statue of Liberty play (which resulted in a 3-yard gain by Jai Morris) and finally a flanker option pass (which resulted in an interception by El Camino’s Alex DeGiacomo at the Warrior 7 with 6:30 remaining).
El Camino picked up a first down at its own 26 when Coy threw a 14-yard pass to Thompkins, but faced a 3rd and 8 moments later. That’s when the fateful pass from Coy, past Rodenburg and into the hands of Thompkins occurred, extending El Camino’s lead to 31-21 with 3:33 left.
Still, Saddleback kept trying to rally, and got back within a touchdown with just over a minute left. A 36-yard return of the ensuing kickoff by Shane Henry got the ball to the 50, and a pair of pass completions moved the ball to the 14. But then came sacks on consecutive plays by El Camino’s Tim High and Paul Dancy, which gave Saddleback a 4th and 27 from the 31. Shrock went back to pass and lofted a pass high into the end zone. The ball came down in the hands of Wisner for a touchdown, making it 31-28 with 1:07 left.
But that miracle would be Saddleback’s last. The Gauchos tried an onsides kick moments later, but the ball bounced right to Adams, who recovered at the Saddleback 41. By then the Gauchos were out of timeouts, and two kneeldowns later the Warriors had the victory.
For El Camino, Coy completed 22 of 38 passes for 365 yards and 3 TDs, and he also finished with 72 yards rushing (98 if the five sacks are subtracted out), highlighted by the 72-yard touchdown run. Tuli caught a game-high 9 passes for 115 yards, while Thompkins had 7 receptions for a game-high 167 yards. Five different Warriors had a quarterback sack, while DeGiacomo had the key interception and Daniel Stewart not only had a fumble recovery but was a visible presence on the defensive line all night.
For Saddleback, Shrock finished 16 of 28 passing for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hutter led Gaucho receivers with 4 catches for 56 yards and had a pair of touchdowns. Morris led Saddleback with 44 yards rushing, but the Gaucho ground attack amassed just 52 yards total on 35 carries. The Saddleback defense matched El Camino with 5 quarterback sacks on the night.
With the win, El Camino improves its record to 10-1 and will travel to Santa Clarita to face the #1 seed and #1-ranked (JC Grid-Wire) College of the Canyons Cougars next Saturday. JCFootball.com will be there, of course. Saddleback finishes 7-4 on the season with the four losses coming by a combined total of 14 points.
El Camino Warriors 31
Saddleback Gauchos 28
Saturday, November 22, 2008 - 6 pm - Murdock Stadium - Torrance
American Bowl - SCFA Playoff - First Round
S - Hutter 7 yd pass from Shrock (Lepore kick) 9:49 (0-7)
S - Hutter 24 yd pass from Shrock (Lepore kick) 4:24 (0-14)
S - Wisner 3 yd run (Lepore kick) 4:05 (0-21)
EC - Bullock 14 yd pass from Coy (Blumberg kick) 14:17 (7-21)
EC - Tuli 19 yd pass from Coy (Blumberg kick) 9:34 (14-21)
EC - Coy 72 yd run (Blumberg kick) 3:29 (21-21)
EC - FG Blumberg 44 yds 13:28 (24-21)
EC - Thompkins 72 yd pass from Coy (Blumberg kick) 3:33 (31-21)
S - Wisner 31 yd pass from Shrock (Lepore kick) 1:07 (31-28)
First Downs: El Camino 18 (3 rush, 15 pass), Saddleback 17 (6 rush, 10 pass, 1 penalty)
Rushes-Yds: El Camino 28-90, Saddleback 35-52
Passing Yds: El Camino 365, Saddleback 199
Comp-Att-Int: El Camino 22-38-0, Saddleback 16-29-1
Return Yds: El Camino 79, Saddleback 136
Sacks-Yds: El Camino 5-42, Saddleback 5-26
Fumbles-Lost: El Camino 2-2, Saddleback 2-1
Penalties-Yds: El Camino 11-75, Saddleback 4-20
Time of Possession: El Camino 31:26, Saddleback 28:34
Rushing: El Camino 11-Coy 11-72, 6-A.Harris 6-21, 26-I.Williams 3-14, 35-Sekona 3-10, 2-Thompkins 1-1, 9-Easterling 1-(-1), team 3-(-27); Saddleback 8-Morris 10-44, 43-Pemasa 10-41, 28-Neal 3-2, 6-Wisner 2-1, 1-Shrock 10-(-36)
Passing: El Camino 11-Coy 22-38-0-365, 3 TDs; Saddleback 1-Shrock 16-28-0-199, 3 TDs; 6-Wisner 0-1-1-0
Receiving: El Camino 10-Tuli 9-115, 2-Thompkins 7-167, 1-Bullock 3-35, 17-Van Amersfort 1-21, 85-K.Smith 1-15, 39-Olawale 1-12; Saddleback 5-Hutter 4-56, 15-Enyard 3-54, 6-Wisner 3-53, 28-Neal 3-39, 43-Pemasa 2-(-5), 8-Morris 1-2
Interceptions-Ret Yds: El Camino 24-DeGiacmoo 1-0; Saddleback none
Fumble Rec: El Camino 91-Stewart; Saddleback 30-Loynes, 58-Bustos
Sacks-Yds: El Camino 56-Hollis 1-10, 99-Dancy 1-9, 27-Brooks 1-8, 97-High 1-8, 91-Stewart 1-7; Saddleback 44-Lasconia 1-8, 23-Brown 1-7, 99-Fesili 1-7, 10-Berry 1-2, 54-Bundgard 1-2
Punters: El Camino 88-Gravett 4-25.3 avg, 11-Coy 1-19; Saddleback 90-Keseloff 6-39.0 avg
Kick Returns: El Camino 29-R.Smith 3-45, 10-Tuli 1-29; Saddleback 4-Henry 4-83, 21-Garcia 1-18
Punt Returns: El Camino 25-Gavins 2-5; Saddleback 21-Garcia 2-35
Missed FG: El Camino none; Saddleback 95-Lepore 26 yds (wide right), 30 yds (wide left)
Notes: El Camino entered 9-1, ranked #4 in South and #5 in nation (JC Grid-Wire). Saddleback entered 7-3, ranked #5 in South and #13 in nation (JC Grid-Wire). Garcia’s 23-yd punt return set up Saddleback’s 1st TD. Saddleback’s 2nd TD came one play after Loynes’ recovery of a fumble by Tuli at the El Camino 24. Then on the next El Camino play from scrimmage a premature snap resulted in a fumble recovered by Bustos at the Warrior 3; Saddleback’s 3rd TD came one play later. But then came the comeback - two long drives on which Coy had a total of 9 completions. 23-M.Harris got a finger on Lepore’s 26-yd field goal try, deflecting it wide to the right. Then came Coy’s 72-yd run on a QB draw that tied it. 10-Berry got a finger on a Gravett punt in the 4th quarter, resulting in a 16-yd net. On the ensuing drive, Saddleback tried a flea-flicker, a Statue of Liberty play and an ill-fated flanker option. Wisner’s pass attempt was the flanker option (which DeGiacomo intercepted). El Camino then tried to run out the clock late and soon faced a 3rd and 8; Coy’s pass to the left sideline was nearly intercepted by 22-Rodenburg, who missed the ball by a few inches. Instead it went to Thompkins, who took it the distance for the 72-yd TD. Saddleback scored on a Hail Mary pass on 4th and 27 for their last TD. On the ensuing kickoff, Saddleback tried an onsides kick but 4-Adams recovered for El Camino, sealing the win.