Community College Football : Saddleback Still Perfect, Defeats Rancho Santiago

Times Staff Writer

Undefeated Saddleback College turned six Rancho Santiago turnovers into 25 second-half points Saturday night and rallied to beat the Dons, 39-32, in front of 1,800 in Santa Ana Stadium.

The Gauchos, the No. 3 team in the nation and the No. 1 team in the Southland, ended the regular season with a Mission Conference record of 8-0 and an overall record of 10-0. This is the ninth straight year Saddleback has either won or shared the Mission title.

Rancho Santiago, which had won three straight going into the game, is 3-4 and 5-4. The Dons conclude their season next week against Orange Coast.


Saddleback trailed, 26-14, at halftime but was able to come back because of three fumbles and three interceptions by the Dons, which all came in the second half.

Don quarterback Silvio Delligatta’s fumble at his own 17 early in the third quarter was the first of the turnovers. Two plays later, Gaucho quarterback Jason Schmid, who completed 20 of 35 attempts for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns, hit Alvin Pierce on a 16-yard scoring play to cut Rancho Santiago’s lead to 26-21.

Rancho Santiago capitalized on a fumble by Roger Fickling to score on John Cook’s 10-yard pass to Rich Robinson with 7:51 left in the quarter and increase the Dons’ lead to 32-21. But that was the last time Rancho Santiago would score.

Sean Sawyer’s first of two fumbles on the Dons’ next possession led to Fickling’s 1-yard scoring run. The Gauchos went for a two-point conversion and were successful when Bret Mersola completed a pass to Schmid on a trick play that fooled Rancho Santiago’s defense completely, leaving Rancho Santiago with a 32-29 lead.

Sawyer’s second fumble seconds later gave Saddleback the ball at the Dons’ 13. Four plays later, Fickling scored his third touchdown of the game, and Saddleback had the lead for the first time at 36-32.

Jay Wilkerson’s interception of Cook set up Saddleback’s final points, which came on a 44-yard field goal by Tracy Rutkowski.


Rancho Santiago drove to the Saddleback 19 with 2:55 to play, but the drive--and the Dons’ hopes--came to an end when Orland Sylve intercepted Delligatta to secure the win. It was Sylve’s second interception of the half.

Schmid’s big night left him with 180 completions in 328 attempts, 21 touchdowns and 2,683 yards, are all Gaucho single-season records. Teammate Mersola set a school record Saturday by making 10 receptions, good for 105 yards.

Despite losing to Saddleback for the fifth time in as many years, Rancho Santiago outgained the Gauchos, 515-298.

Rancho Santiago dominated the first half as it outplayed Saddleback on offense, defense and special teams.

Rich Pederson’s 46-yard punt pinned Saddleback to its 1-yard line midway through the first quarter. On the next play, Rancho Santiago’s Rob Polichetti and Dan Baytosh stopped Quincy Frank in the Gaucho end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Don lead.

Rancho Santiago increased its lead to 9-0 three plays after the free kick. Delligatta’s threw a screen pass to Sawyer and the former El Modena High School star turned it into a 73-yard touchdown.


Saddleback came back on its next possession to cut the lead to 9-7. Schmid’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Tony Palamara with 5:04 left in the first quarter capped a 74-yard, 9-play drive.

Citrus 35, Orange Coast 21--The Owls took an early 14-0 lead and held off two challenges from the Pirates before prevailing at Azusa. OCC twice pulled to within a touchdown at 14-7 and 28-21, but could not overcome the Owls.

A 65-yard run by OCC’s Ken Laszlo with 9 minutes to play made it 28-21, but Citrus then drove 88 yards in 11 plays to put the game out of reach. Eric Johnston and Eddie Lamontagne scored the Pirates’ other two touchdowns.

OCC (1-6, 1-7-1) hosts Rancho Santiago Saturday.

El Camino 27, Golden West 17--Despite 183 yards in 38 carries by Golden West’s Todd Parker, El Camino prevailed in a Pacific-9 game at Torrance. Golden West (3-4 and 3-5-1) will play host to Bakersfield Friday.

Cerritos 41, Long Beach 0--Quarterback Tony Locy, a graduate of Mater Dei, set a single-season passing record at Cerritos of 1,692 yards, surpassing the mark of 1,592 set by Mike Ernst in 1968.

Cerritos raised its record to 5-2-1 and 6-2-1.