Grossmont (7-2, 3-2 National Division Southern Conference) stubbed its toe and did a pratfall in its final home game Saturday (Nov. 7), falling to last place Santa Ana 13-10 at Mashin-Roth Memorial Field. Seven turnovers and a muffed onsides kick proved costly as those miscues led to 10 of Santa Ana's points.
Because of that untimely setback, the Griffins are now facing a must-win situation when they close the regular season Saturday (Nov. 14) at Saddleback (7-2, 3-2 NatSo) in Mission Viejo at 7 p.m. If the Griffins are successful, they will tie idle Palomar for second place in the National Division Southern Conference behind champion Fullerton.
"It all hinges on the Saddleback game now," said Grossmont coach Mike Jordan said. At the very least this game includes a bowl game invite to the winner. The loser may be on the outside looking in.
Against Santa Ana, it was an afternoon of misfires for the Griffins, who contributed to their demise more than the Dons' stout defense. Sure, the Griffins outgained the visiting Dons (4-5, 1-4 NatSo) by a 338-236 count, but could well have lost the game on the final play of the first half. No question that was a huge momentum boost for Santa Ana.
With Brandon Fricke - who hadn't played since week two due to injury - at the helm, the Griffins, trailing 10-0 at the time, made one final charge for the end zone as time was running out in the first half. A 21-yard pass from Fricke to Greg Corder lanced what would be a 64-yard drive. Things were well on schedule as the Griffins advanced the ball to a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. Three plays later and less than a minute remaining, Grossmont had positioned itself at the 1-yard line.
Grossmont coach Mike Jordan replaced the smaller Fricke with 6-foot-2, 230-pound Matt Jarvis at quarterback. At that point a QB sneak loomed obvious, and that was the play call. Somehow Jarvis was unable to cover the 32 inches needed to put Grossmont on the scoreboard and Santa Ana pranced off the field with a 10-0 advantage at the break.
"Obviously that was a big disappointment," Jordan said. "If we score there, who knows how the second half turns out."
Nonetheless, Grossmont started fast in the 3rd quarter. On the Griffins' third play following intermission, Jarvis lofted a 60-yard scoring pass to Jon Molzen to put Grossmont on the board less than three minutes into the second half.
When Santa Ana bobbled the ensuing kickoff Damien Smith fell on the loose ball for Grossmont, giving the Griffins possession at the Dons' 18-yard line. The golden scoring opportunity turned to bronze when the Griffins had to settle for a game-tying 28-yard field goal by Troy Muenzer.
Even in defeat Grossmont's defense was rock solid. The Griffins were led by outside linebacker Homer Mauga, who recorded 6 tackles and 2 sacks, a QB hurry and a fumble recovery. Mauga's credentials are worthy of conference player of the year as he now owns sacks in six consecutive contests, including nine over the past five games - four were multi-sack efforts.
The problem was Grossmont's offense kept putting its defense in the hole. But time after time the Griffins defenders came up with the big play down the stretch.
With the score tied 10-10 Grossmont's Cory Bell blocked a Chase Lansford (son of former California Angels baseball standout Carney Lansford) field goal attempt.
That set the Griffins' offense in motion as they drove to the Santa Ana 25-yard line where a 4th down Dorian Statan pass fell incomplete. Once again Santa Ana stormed back down to Grossmont's end of the field only to see Lansford miss a 34-yard field goal.
Credit for that miss belongs to Grossmont's special teams for putting on the pressure.
But the Griffins failed to capitalize and they were forced to punt out of their own endzone. For the third time the Dons stalked the red zone but were stopped at the 3-yard line as the clock was winding down.
This time Lansford didn't miss as he kicked a game-winning field goal from 20 yards out with 20 seconds remaining.
Grossmont made one final charge as Ki'Anie Brooks returned a kickoff out of the endzone for 34 yards.
With 11 seconds left Jarvis connected with Alex McLeland for a 21-yard gain that carried the ball into Santa Ana territory. But McLeland fumbled after being tackled and Santa Ana recovered to end the game.
Jarvis finished with 168 yards, completing 10 of 22 passes. He was sacked twice and threw three interceptions. Fricke was 6 of 10 for 69 yards and was sacked twice.
Joey DeMartino led Grossmont's ground game with 89 yards rushing on 24 carries. A shortcoming for the Griffins that must be shored up before they face Saddleback is convincing their running backs that they have to block to allow their quarterbacks time to complete a pass.
If that doesn't happen at Saddleback, it may be a case of see ya next year.