Fullerton College suffered a brief lapse Saturday night but regained the composure it has shown all season and defeated Saddleback, 47-37, in a Mission Conference football game in front of about 3,000 at Saddleback.
With the victory, Fullerton (10-0 overall and 9-0 in the conference) clinched the conference championship. Fullerton’s 5-0 record against Mission Conference Central Division teams also gave the Hornets the divisional title.
Now Fullerton, the top-ranked team in the state and the second-ranked team in the national J.C. Grid-Wire poll, will pursue higher goals--the state and national titles.
Fullerton is the top pick in the bowl field. Fullerton Coach Hal Sherbeck wouldn’t say where his team would play but the Hornets are expected to accept a bid to play in the Bakersfield Potato Bowl Dec. 3.
Fullerton would be matched with Bakersfield (10-0), which is the second-ranked team in the state and third in the nation. Fullerton is also a top pick for the December PONY Bowl.
Saturday, the Hornets took advantage of several Saddleback mistakes in the first half to open a 33-10 lead.
Saddleback finally began to rally in the third quarter, once its defense was able to establish some control.
Quarterback Scott Stark scored on a 1-yard run with 5:29 left in the third quarter and Aly Diaz scored on a 2-yard run with 12:45 left to play as Saddleback cut the deficit to 33-23.
But Fullerton’s offense countered with a time-consuming, 10-play, 58-yard drive.
Quarterback Victor Williams completed the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tim Imperiali. Kirk Hainline made the extra point and Fullerton led, 40-28, with 9:20 left.
Saddleback responded with a 8-yard touchdown pass from Stark to Scott Miller with 6:55 left, making the score 40-29. But Fullerton came right back to score on a 5-yard pass from Williams to Shane Wiley and led, 47-29, with 5:20 left.
Saddleback made it 47-37 when Diaz scored on a 1-yard run and then ran in a 2-point conversion with 3:09 left. The Gauchos tried an on-side kick but Fullerton recovered and ran out the clock.
“I’m so proud of our players and coaches,” Sherbeck said. “Any time a team can go 10-0 in this conference, it is quite an accomplishment. The unity this team showed and the way it came together, they did a heck of a job.”
Saddleback had two consecutive punts blocked to set up Fullerton touchdowns in the second quarter. Jeff Andrews scored on runs of 2 and 6 yards after the blocked punts, giving Fullerton a 20-3 lead.
Fullerton scored again when Ernest Johnson intercepted a Stark pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown that gave Fullerton a 26-3 lead. Williams then completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Mike Thomas to lead, 33-3.
Saddleback scored in the final minute of the half on a 66-yard hook-and-ladder play from Scott Stark to George Mengas on a 7-yard pass. Mengas then pitched to Miller, who ran 59 yards for a score.
The teams combined for 1,110 yards in total offense. Fullerton had 564 and Saddleback 446.
Andrews led Fullerton on the ground by rushing for 143 yards in 30 carries. Williams completed 17 of 28 passes for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“I was nervous in the first half,” Williams said. “But in the second half we just came out and figured we had nothing to lose so we just went for it.”
In other action:
Orange Coast 29, Rancho Santiago 19--Trailing, 16-0, early in the second quarter, Orange Coast inserted third-string fullback Travin Lui at quarterback. Lui ran the option for 3 touchdowns and helped the Pirates regroup to win their final Mission Conference game. Lui had 67 yards in 16 carries.
Rancho led at the half 19-14.
Orange Coast finished the regular season at 4-6, 3-6 in conference. Rancho Santiago is 6-3-1 and 5-3-1 in conference.