Riverside College sent a less-than-subtle message to the rest of the Mission Conference Central Division teams Saturday.
Riverside, the only non-Orange County team in the division, defeated Rancho Santiago, the best the county has to offer, 34-24, in front of about 6,000 at Riverside.
Riverside (6-0 overall and 5-0 in conference play) handled Rancho Santiago despite four turnovers, three fumbles and an interception. It was the first loss for Rancho Santiago (5-1, 4-1), which was ranked second the Southland Poll. Riverside was ranked third.
The Tigers led, 20-7, at the half, but turned the ball over three consecutive times in the third quarter.
Still, Rancho Santiago managed only 10 points from the gifts.
Riverside fumbled the second-half kickoff and Rancho Santiago scored eight plays later on one-yard run by Ziad Khozam to cut the lead to 20-14.
Scott Feldman kicked a 27-yard field goal for Rancho Santiago to cut the lead to 20-17 with 4:24 left in the third quarter. The Dons had a first down at the Riverside two on that series, but after an offsides penalty, running back Estrus Crayton lost a yard. After a third-down incomplete pass, Feldman was forced to kick the field goal.
Rancho Santiago got the ball right back on a fumble recovery by Ralph Henderson. But Rancho Santiago's drive stalled, and the Dons turned the ball over on downs at the Riverside 33.
"We should have gotten at least 14 points, and probably 17," Rancho Santiago Coach Dave Ogas said. "We just didn't execute on offense like we have all season."
Riverside took a 27-17 lead on a three-yard pass from Randy Payne to Daryl McChristian with 11:37 left in the game.
Crayton returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 27-24 eight seconds later.
McChristian came back with a one-yard run for a touchdown with 8:41 left to give Riverside a 34-24 lead.
McChristian led all rushers with 194 yards in 23 carries. He had eight runs of 10 or more yards, including a 45-yarder. Riverside rushed for 234 yards and passed for 172 more.
The Riverside defense held Rancho Santiago to a season-low 24 points and 308 yards. "Blame it on good defense," Ogas said. "We just weren't settled down and made too many mistakes."
Rancho Santiago quarterback Scott Wood was 17 of 34 for 162 yards but missed on eight of his final 10 attempts and also was intercepted twice.
"They have the best offense we've faced all season," Riverside Coach Barry Meier said. "We just wanted to keep it simple and make sure we were in the right places at the right times and took it from there."
Rancho Santiago opened with a 76-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game.
It was the first time a team has scored on Riverside in the first quarter this season. Riverside tied it on a 32-yard pass from Payne to Joe Dantuono with 11:56 left in the first quarter.
Riveside took the lead, 14-7, when Steve Stokes recovered a Maund fumble in the end zone.
Darren Goodman added field goals of 41 and 32 yards in the second quarter as Riverside took a 20-7 halftime lead.
In another Mission Conference football game:
Orange Coast 27, Saddleback 14--Greg Angelovic completed 15 of 30 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns--including a school-record 92-yard completion to Melvin Johnson--to lead visiting Orange Coast.
OCC improved to 5-1 overall, 4-1 in the Mission Conference and 1-0 in the Central Division. For OCC, Jason McGehee had 91 yards in 23 carries and a touchdown, Mark Craig had seven catches for 113 yards and Shane Talbert had five catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.
For Saddleback (1-5, 1-4, 0-1), John Burns had 109 yards in 24 carries and Jeff Bailey completed 17 of 32 passes for 267 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.