LONG BEACH — There has been little cause for celebration for the Orange Coast College football team this season. But the last play of a 31-12 loss to host Long Beach Saturday at Veterans Stadium at least provided a promising salutation.
Freshman quarterback A.J. Josue, who Pirates Coach Mike Taylor said provided a spark off the bench, connected with sophomore Kali'i Kunitumo for a 36-yard catch-and-run to the Vikings' four-yard line as time expired.
The sigh of disappointment over the near-touchdown that sprang from the OCC sideline, as well as from several supporters in the stands, might indicate the Pirates and their rooters are far from ready to write off this team.
The Pirates' 0-2 start, in which they have been outscored a combined 68-18 and scored only two offensive touchdowns, is the program's worst opening since the
2004 team began 0-5.
It is also stark contrast to consecutive 4-0 beginnings OCC fashioned the previous two seasons.
But there were signs of improvement from an opening-week rout against Saddleback, even if statistically modest.
Josue, who played one series late in the second quarter then took over for starter Zach Emde the entire second half, threw for 142 yards. Nine of his 10 completions went for at least 10 yards and eight of those produced first downs.
Josue, likely smaller than his listed size of 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, virtually disappears when crouching under center. But he used his quickness to dart around in and out of the pocket, absorbing just one of the five sacks the Vikings (2-0) recorded.
"A.J. came in and ran around a little bit," Taylor said. "He's not very big and if he doesn't slide once in a while he might not make it through the season. But he brings a lot of little energy to the team and he does that in practice."
Still, Josue failed to lead the Pirates to the end zone. He completed 10 of 25 passes with one interception.
Emde was seven for 11 for 75 passing yards. He managed a nine-play, 29-yard scoring drive that pulled the Pirates within 7-6 with 14:17 left before halftime. But he thew an interception to end the half and he lost a fumble on a sneak three plays after OCC fielded the opening kickoff.
Derrick Romo (four catches for 44 yards), Kunitumo (three for 53) and Keali'i Doll (three for 39) led nine OCC pass catchers.
The running game, which registered just 15 yards in the opener, produced 71 yards, including 21 on seven attempts by Josue.
Freshman tailback Jorey Hansen had 34 rushing yards on 13 carries in his first start. His two-yard scoring surge off left tackle put the Pirates on the board, but Lucas Vandeman's PAT attempt was kicked into the line.
Vandeman's low 38-yard field-goal try late in the first half also never cleared the neutral zone.
A 72-yard touchdown pass helped Long Beach gain a 21-6 lead in the second quarter and the Vikings' Deondre Powell returned the second-half kickoff 86 yards to put OCC further in a hole.
OCC freshman cornerback Wesley Harris snatched backup quarterback Gabriel Thomas' pass with one hand and returned the interception 52 yards for a touchdown to finalize the scoring with 5:16 left in the game.
Sophomore outside linebacker Travis McNaughton also had an interception.
Sophomore outside 'backer Corbin Davis, who had 13 tackles against Saddleback, sat out the second half with what Taylor said was a neck injury.
Josue said he is anxious to get back at it.
"This was my first time and it was good experience," Josue said. "I could have made plays and I should have made plays. I'm ready to step up, learn my stuff and take control of this offense."
Long Beach 31, Orange Coast 12
SCORE BY QUARTERS
OCC 0 – 6 – 0 – 6 — 12
LBCC 7 – 14 – 10 – 0 — 31
LB – Ginter 11 run (Covey kick), 10:38.
OCC – Hansen 2 run (kick blocked), 14:17.
LB – Balque 4 pass from Tuiasosopo (Covey kick), 9:54.
LB – Balque 72 pass from Tuiasosopo (Covey kick), 5:30.
LB – Powell 86 kickoff return (Covey kick), 14:47.
LB – Covey 23 FG, 4:44.
OCC – Harris 52 interception return (run failed), 5:16.
OCC – Hansen, 13-34, 1 TD; Josue, 7-21.
LB – Ginter, 15-65, 1 TD.
OCC – Josue, 10-25-1, 142; Emde, 7-11-1, 75.
LB – Tuiasosopo, 11-14-1, 196, 2 TDs.
OCC – Romo, 4-44; Kunitumo, 3-53, Doll, 3-39.