After Bakersfield lost All Conference DL Maurice Hayes, it didn't look like that situation was going to improve for the Gades in this first round playoff game, and it didn't. But after going down by 13 points in the middle of the 4th quarter and the Gades facing a game clinching 20 yard field goal, the Bulldogs were shocked by a valiant Renegade rally that had them pull out a 24-21 victory on a Josh Gallington field goal with only 2 seconds left on the clock to earn a berth in the SoCal semi-finals.
The Gades struck first when they marched down the field behind the strong arm of freshman QB Logan Kilgore. Bakersfield got all the way down to the Bulldogs' two-yard line, but Hancock played great defensively in the red zone all night, and BC had to settle for a 3-0 lead on a Gallington 19-yard field goal. But Hancock came right back at them. The Gades held on 1st and 2nd downs, but poor tackling and great scrambling by QB Gunner Jesperson kept Hancock drives alive. Eventually, the conference's leading rusher, Ryan Anglin punched it home from the two giving the Dogs a 7-3 lead.
In the second quarter, Kilgore marched the Renegades down the field again, and on a 4th and 2 at the Dog nine yard line, Bakersfield decided to go for it, but a wide open receiver dropped an easy touchdown pass. After Hancock got the ball back, not only were the Gades guilty of sloppy tackling, their defensive backs were playing way too far off of receivers which had earlier in the season cost them against El Camino. After the Dogs had to punt, Rishard Matthews, who would end up with over 130 yards in punt returns, temporarily dropped the pigskin, but picked it up and rambled his way down to the Bulldog three yard line. From there Ben Estill, plowed it home for a 10-7 lead.
The Renegades were guilty of a few bone headed penalties and received the first one for a little shoving match between players giving the Dogs good field position. From there, Jesperson kept the Gades off balance, mixing runs with short passes Even when every one of the 7,000 plus fans in the stands knew that talented Bulldog QB Gunner Jesperson was going to keep the ball on crucial third downs, the Gades could not contain him.Once again he kept the ball on a roll out, pump faked a pass into the endzone that froze defenders, then dove over the flag of the endzone to give Hancock a 14-10 half time lead.
The start of the second half started out as well as it could for the Gades as Ryan Anglin dropped to a knee on his own 2 yard line trying to field the kick. Bakersfield quickly took advantage of the field position after the Dog's punted, but once again a receiver dropped yet another TD in the endzone. Bakersfield settled for another Gallington field goal and cut the lead to 14-13.
The Bulldogs quickly bulled their way downfield, but a high snap over the head of Jesperson pushed the ball back at least 30 yards and it looked like the Gades would hold. That is until a Renegade committed another boneheaded act and jumped on Jesperson well after the whistle had blown. That gave Hancock an automatic first down, and they marched down the field and Jesperson scored on another keeper to give Hancock a big 8 point lead, 21-13.
BC came right back and drove down the field inside the 5-yard line. But the Bulldogs held on three straight chances inside the 5-yard line, stopping Estill as he tried to jump over would be tacklers. Hancock wound it's way all the way down the field behind sloppy tackling and wide open sideline receivers. But a 20 yard game clinching field goal was wide, and the Gades had new life with 8 minutes to go. Ben Estill pushed the offense to the Hancock 28 yard line, and Kilgore found Vince Van Horn in the back of the endzone, and the Gades had to go for two to tie the game. It didn't look good for the BC QB as he tried to buy time rolling to the right. Finally under pressure he fired it towards Van Horne, and what looked like a possible interception turned into a game tying catch as Van Horne literally ripped the ball away from the defender and we had a new ball game.
Bakersfield held as a low snap on third down to Jesperson led to a punt from midfield. Rishard Matthews, who turned out to be the game MVP, took the punt all the way back to midfield and the Renegades were in business. From there it became the Ben Estill show. The Renegades decided to run guard pulling sweeps and Estill picked his way down the field, You could tell that the sweeps were tiring the Bulldogs. Inside the red zone, BC decided to run the clock down and setup the state's most accurate field goal kicker for a game winner. Bakersfield had a first down, so it left many Renegade fans squirming that they would run the clock down to 2 seconds before calling a time out. Personally, I would have left 10 seconds on the clock so in case of a bad hold or snap, you could simply call timeout again and retry. Maybe that's why Chudy is one of the most successful coaches in JC Ball and I'm in the stands watching the game. Gallington calmly booted it trough the uprights to win the game 24-21 as time ran out.
These two teams always pound away at each other no matter what the talent levels are that particular season. But this day, these two teams came at each other as two of the best in SoCal and it showed. There were many heroes in the game, including great performances by Jesperson, and Anglin on offense. Bulldogs Linebacker Brennan Locker garnered defensive player of the game. For BC, Estill ended up with 116 yards on 24 carries and was the offensive player of the game. Rishard Matthews big returns gave him the game M.V.P. But although they did not garner awards, Van Horn was probably the hero in the locker room as it was his play that won the day in the 4th. Also, when Hancock's rushers got into the defensive backfield, Tanner Webb did a great job of stopping big gains.
This has been a long time rivalry, but instead of hatred these two programs share a mutual respect for each other. Coach Kris Dutra thanked all the fans in attendance, and the Bakersfield community in general for another great bowl game. He especially thanked the many fans from the Santa Maria area for coming up to support the team, and wished the Gades success as reps of the Northern Conference. Coach Jeff Chudy also thanked the Golden Empire sponsors, and reminded everyone that for 95% of the players, it would be the greatest game in their football careers. He also said, "It's not too often that you develop friendships with the guys on the other side of the field, but I think Kris has done a great job and this was probably as clean of a game as I've seen in post season play. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Bulldogs, and feel lucky to have survived this game. Hancock's kids brung it." He also gave kudos for his own team for not laying down when it looked bad, and taking control of the last minutes of the game.
Once again the Clifford and Bradford Insurance sponsored Golden Empire Bowl was proven to be the greatest bowl game in California JC football. Well over 7,000 fans in attendance including thousands of tailgaters were treated to a first class event and a ball game that went down to the final play. The faithful were entertained at halftime to a parachute drop by the Army's Black Dagger team, and three fans won big screen televisions. For Hancock it ends a fantastic season where their only two losses could have gone either way an ended in the last 2 seconds. For BC, they get to play another week but have to travel down to #1 seed Mount Sac next Saturday. That game might be called the Injury Bowl as both teams have been hit hard with the injury bug towards the close of the season. It should be every bit as good of a game as this one.