LOS ANGELES — A quarterback run into the end zone completed a two-point conversion to even the score, elevating the Glendale Community College football team from a one-score deficit to a tie against Los Angeles Southwest College in season finale for both squads Saturday.
However, on the ensuing kickoff, the Vaqueros couldn’t tackle Cougars’ Deion Malone on the return, as he trotted down the field 80 yards for what would be the winning touchdown.
In coach John Rome’s final game of his Vaqueros coaching career, Glendale fell to L.A. Southwest, 41-34, in an American Metro Conference game on the road.
“There’s no really good answer other than we just lack the personnel, defensively,” said Rome, who closes a 12-year chapter as head coach of the Vaqueros. “That translates into special teams. I don’t know what to say. You try to play a complete college game. At some point, you have to punt. At some point, you have to kickoff. If you’re giving them half the field every time, it’s a miserable way to die.”
Throughout the game, the Cougars were able to convert on lengthy third-down plays to come up with scores after extending their possessions on penalties.
“It’s my job to keep them balanced and keep them positive,” L.A. Southwest coach Lynn Cain said. “I don’t care what the referees drop, what they say or what the team on the other side does. It’s about what we do, so I push that. Stay positive, keep working and find a way to make it work for us. They bought into it.”
L.A. Southwest, which was coming off two weeks of no competition having been unable to field a team against Chaffey College on Nov. 2 and earning a forfeit win against Compton College the following week, went toe-to-toe with Glendale in the final quarter.
Glendale (2-8, 2-4 in conference) started the fourth quarter with a 29-yard touchdown connection from quarterback Nathan Eldridge, who came in for injured starter Jorge Amaya in the first quarter, to receiver Jalen Lawrence to give the Vaqueros a 26-21 lead.
Two plays later, the Cougars scored on a 62-yard pass from second-half quarterback Cameron Thomas to Malone to regain the lead, 27-26, with 14:09 left.
The Vaqueros squandered their next possession, turning the ball over on downs at the Cougars’ 38-yard line. The hosts took advantage with a 12-yard touchdown catch from receiver Loveday Chibueze for a 34-26 lead with 3:18 remaining.
Not done yet, Glendale took advantage of a roughing-the-passer call and capped a drive with an 11-yard touchdown reception by running back and St. Francis grad Elijah Washington to cut it to 34-32 with 46.8 remaining.
Eldridge ran in the two-point conversion to tie the score at 34, before Malone ran the ball for an 80-yard touchdown with 31.4 to go.
“Just think of when you were a kid eating an ice cream cone,” said Cain, who took over the program in September. “It was a joy. It was a lot of fun. To work through all the difficult things ... it’s been a transition of working through issues, helping people understand those issues and then how can we work through those things.”
Eldridge finished 15-of-21 passing for 181 yards and three touchdowns, while Lawrence caught six passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Washington had five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown to go along with 23 carries for 144 yards.
“We tried to capitalize on anything and tried to get out of the break on the sidelines quickly,” Eldridge said. “We had three easy penalties on that [final drive] and that really helped. Whenever you start a drive off positive, it’s good, psychologically, for the players because you’re in the positive and you feel like you can get the ball moving.
“From there, you make one play after another and move the ball little by little until you get to the end zone.”
The Cougars (1-7 overall) scored first on a 25-yard throw to Chibueze on a fourth-down pass for a 7-0 lead at 6:53 in the first.
In Cougars’ territory, an 11-yard run forced Glendale starting quarterback Jorge Amaya out of the game with an apparent knee injury. The Vaqueros responded quickly with a four-yard touchdown run from Eldridge to tie it at 7 with 3:29 in the first.
The Vaqueros then took a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter when Eldridge found Lawrence for a 49-yard connection.
Momentum shifted to the Cougars when Washington lost control of the ball and the hosts recovered it at the Glendale 8-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Chibueze caught an eight-yard throw to even it at 14 with 7:58 to go in the first half.
With 31.3 left in the opening half, the Cougars added another score with a 13-yard reception from Joseph Lewis to take a 21-14 lead.
The Vaqueros marched down the field and made it a four-point game, 21-17, at the half with a 41-yard field goal from Crescenta Valley graduate Kevin McCollum.
Chibueze finished with three touchdown catches in six receptions for 93 yards, Malone recorded 169 yards and two touchdowns in seven catches and Thomas completed six of 10 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns.