Since posting a 7-4 season that ended in a bowl game in 2006, the Orange Coast College football program has longed for mediocrity.
With a 26-42 record (a winning percentage of 35.3), and a 9-27 mark against conference opponents (winning just 25% of the time) from 2007 on, Coach Mike Taylor's Pirates have inspired little fanfare and even fewer fans.
But for a little more than the three hours it took for OCC to hand a stunning 55-48 loss to a Saddleback team that was ranked No. 21 in the state and No. 11 in Southern California on Saturday night, the Pirates put together one of their finest four-quarter performances in recent memory.
Sophomore quarterback Jon Newsom, returning to the starting lineup after dropping to third string, played as if his place atop the depth chart was the only thing to lose. Newsom, who had lost the starting job twice before since arriving from Trabuco Hills High, completed 21 of 37 attempts for 376 yards and five touchdowns. He also contributed 85 yards and one touchdown on 21 rushing attempts to earn Southern California Football Assn. Player of the Week honors. The 376 passing yards were two shy of the school single-game record set by Keith Jarrett in 1987, but his 461 yards rushing and passing set a school record for total offense (previously 358 by Jarrett) and all-purpose yards (386 by Bart Recktenwald, rushing, passing, receiving and returns in 1987).
The 103 combined points were the most in the 66-season history of the OCC program, edging the mark set in last year's 52-50 loss to College of the Desert.
OCC's 617 yards of offense rank No. 2 in school annals, topped only by 628 against Golden West in 2000.
The two teams combined for 934 yards passing and 1,225 of total offense, and OCC ran 90 offensive plays to help compile 37 minutes, 19 seconds in time of possession.
Freshman running back Lorenzo Williams gained 95 rushing yards on 23 carries and also threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to D.J. McFadden, who totaled 116 receiving yards on three catches.
OCC's Angel Holmes had four catches for 107 yards and Darren Hambrick averaged 26 yards on his three catches.
OCC averaged just fewer than seven plays on its seven touchdown drives, none of which began in Saddleback territory and none of which came after the Gauchos' three turnovers.
The Pirates had gains from scrimmage of 73, 59, 58, 39 (twice), 37, 35, 27, 25 and 23 (twice) yards.
OCC rallied from a 7-0 deficit to take a 10-7 lead with 2:19 left in the first quarter and never trailed again. The Gauchos pulled even, 41-41, with back-to-back touchdown drives late in the third quarter, but OCC scored on its next two possessions to regain a 14-point cushion.
A dropped punt snap on OCC's final play gave Saddleback one last chance at the Pirates' 32-yard line with two seconds left. But Saddleback quarterback Tim Belman, who threw for 485 yards and six touchdowns, had his final pass into the end zone deflected and intercepted by OCC linebacker Paco Potter to spark a spirited victory celebration.
The win ended an eight-game Southern Conference losing streak by the Pirates (3-5, 1-3 in conference), who had dropped six straight to the Gauchos (3-4, 1-2). The loss all but ended the bowl hopes of Saddleback.
OCC, however, figures to have a hard time maintaining any momentum. It faces district rival Golden West (7-1), ranked No. 4 in Southern California and No. 7 in the state on Saturday at 6 p.m. at OCC. The Pirates then complete the regular season at home against Fullerton (7-0), ranked No. 1 in SoCal and No. 2 in the state, on Nov. 9.
•A UC Irvine men's basketball team that has created considerable preseason buzz plays host to Chapman in an exhibition game on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Bren Events Center.
The Anteaters, picked to win the Big West Conference by the media, feature returning standouts Will Davis, Chris McNealy and Alex Young. The UCI newcomers include 7-6 freshman Mamadou Ndiaye, out of Brethren Christian High by way of Dakar, Senegal, and British import Luke Nelson, a 6-3 guard from Worthing, England.
I asked coach Russell Turner what he and the players call Ndiaye, perhaps thinking he had a nickname.
"We call him Mamadou," Turner said. "What's better than that? It's like Madonna."
•Speaking of buzz, the Vanguard women's basketball team opens the season ranked No. 1 in the NAIA. After a string of exhibition games against UCLA (Thursday), Cal (Friday), Stanford (Sunday) and UC Santa Barbara (Monday), the Lions begin their season Nov. 7 at home against Occidental College at 7:30 p.m.
•The men's and women's soccer teams from UCI each posted two conference wins last week to bolster their place in the Big West standings.
Coach George Kuntz's men topped UC Riverside, 2-0, on Wednesday, then edged No. 5-ranked Cal State Northridge, 1-0, on Saturday at Northridge.
UCI's men are 4-2-1 in conference, tied for first in the South Division with Northridge with three regular-season conference matches left.
After 2-1 wins at Hawaii on Thursday and Cal State Northridge on Sunday, the UCI women are 5-2 in conference with one Big West game remaining. Coach Scott Juniper's squad has clinched at least a No. 3 seed in the Big West tournament, its sixth conference-tournament appearance in the last seven seasons.
The four-team women's conference tournament is Nov. 7 and 10 at Cal State Fullerton.