NORTHEAST GLENDALE — It wasn't an ideal season for the 15 sophomores on the Glendale Community College football team, but Saturday night provided an opportunity for the Vaqueros to end their playing careers as winners.
To their coaches, they were winners on Saturday.
But on the scoreboard, they weren't, despite a valiant effort in a heart-wrenching game.
L.A. Southwest College made sure that it was the team that got to celebrate a win for its sophomores.
The Cougars ruined the Vaqueros' sophomore night, defeating Glendale college, 56-50, in overtime in a Pacific Conference American Division game at Sartoris Field.
"These kids are undefeated when it comes to dealing with adversity and not quitting," Glendale college Coach John Rome said of his team, which finished the season 1-9, 1-5 in conference.
"I'm going to miss these guys so much."
Ezekiel Graham helped ensure a Cougar victory and a bitter end for the Vaqueros.
The L.A. Southwest freshman running back had 222 rushing yards in 23 carries and scored three touchdowns, with his last proving to be the game-winning score.
Graham – who finished the season with 1,321 rushing yards in 181 carries, averaging 7.3 yards per rush – scored from one yard out in the first overtime in the extra session's initial possession.
"We knew he was going to be elusive and quick, and we were going to try to slow him down, but it was hard," Rome said of Graham, who also caught five passes for 47 yards, as the Cougars gained 589 yards of total offense and became the fifth team to score more than 40 points against the Vaqueros.
Glendale college had an opportunity to tie the score and win — the Cougars botched the extra point — but the Vaqueros gained just one yard in four tries, and quarterback Kevin Hunter's fourth-down pass was deflected, sealing L.A. Southwest's win.
"They didn't make any mistakes," Rome said.
Glendale college lost its first seven games of the season before rebounding with resilient efforts in the past three weeks. It defeated Santa Barbara, 38-17, on Oct. 22 for its first win before losing to Santa Monica, 47-41, at home on Nov. 5.
A finale against a struggling L.A. Southwest team (4-6, 3-3) allowed the Vaqueros the opportunity to end the year with a win and have something to build on for the 2012 campaign.
But it was apparent from the first quarter that the Vaqueros might be in for a long night.
Graham, who had 125 yards in the opening half, scored on an 80-yard run to give the Cougars a 14-3 lead 10 minutes into the game. It was his second score of the game, and the Cougars' longest scoring drive, as the Vaqueros struggled in their kickoff game, a facet of the game that came back to haunt them later in the fourth quarter.
Vaqueros running back Joseph Wiggan did his part to keep his team within striking distance. He rushed for a career-high 253 yards in 33 carries and scored two touchdowns, and was one of three sophomore running backs who helped the Vaqueros erase a 17-point, third-quarter deficit.
After L.A. Southwest took a 47-30 lead, Glendale college's Timothy Broughton scored his lone rushing touchdown on a three-yard run with one minute to play in the third quarter. Broughton had 78 rushing yards and caught six passes, including two touchdowns, for 80 yards.
Teammate Omar Barrera-Sanchez added a five-yard scoring run to make the score 47-44 with six minutes remaining in the game.
"We had a lot of anger built up," said Wiggan, who finished his Vaquero career with 1,109 yards rushing and 13 total touchdowns. "We wanted to show we were a better team [than our record showed]."
The final minutes of regulation provided thrilling moments.
After the Vaqueros' defense made a stop, Glendale had the ball on its own 20 with two minutes to play. It drove to the Cougars' 32 before a pair of penalties put Glendale at the 49 and facing a second-and-22 play while trailing by three.
"We knew if we put three receivers on one side of the field and ran the receivers vertical, the corners and the linebackers would go with the receivers," Rome said.
That left a perfect opportunity for Broughton, who caught a short pass from Hunter on the left side of the field and rumbled his way to a 49-yard score with 43 seconds to play. The touchdown gave the Vaqueros a 50-47 lead, but their extra point was blocked.
"It really came down to, had we not missed the extra point, then the field goal becomes a touchdown that they had to get," said Rome, whose offense totaled 567 yards, including 145 passing yards and three touchdowns from Hunter, also a sophomore.
A short kickoff, a runback and a Vaquero penalty at the end of the run allowed the Cougars to set up their final possession of regulation on the Vaqueros' 44.
Eight plays and 26 yards into the possession, Alfred Ntiamoah hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime.
The Cougars capitalized in overtime and the Vaqueros couldn't.
"This is something the sophomores are going to remember forever," Wiggan said. "It was a treacherous battle. This is what we live for as football players. It was a helluva game."