LOS ANGELES — There are no plans for a victory parade through the streets of Glendale, but one could excuse the members of the Glendale Community College football team for celebrating like they had won the Super Bowl or the BCS Championship game Saturday night.
In a handful of their first nine games of the season, the Vaqueros appeared on the doorstep of victory, only to see them lose in heartbreaking fashion.
Thanks to a big performance from its starting running back and three key defensive plays from its strong safety on Saturday, Glendale found a way to finish the job and pick up its first win of the season in its season finale.
Omar Sanchez-Berrara scored a career-high three rushing touchdowns and defensive back Oscar Gladden recovered three fumbles to ignite the Vaqueros to a 42-27 victory against host L.A. Southwest College in a season-ending Pacific Conference American Division contest.
"All I can do right now is smile," GCC Coach John Rome said. "I told them before the game that they had a choice. They could either go 0-10 or go down with one win and appreciate it the rest of the way. For one night, they can feel like a champion."
Glendale (1-9, 1-5 in the division) ended a string of futility, which included losing all five of its previous division contests by seven points or less.
"It wasn't easy all year and we very easily could have won five games," Rome said. "We kept working and they learned some valued lessons that if you worked hard, good things will happen."
Sanchez-Berrara, a freshman, rushed for a team-best 118 yards in 15 carries to turn back the Cougars (4-6, 2-4). The Vaqueros surely needed Sanchez-Berrara, who gave them some breathing room when he scored on an 11-yard run to give the Vaqueros a 35-27 lead with 14:23 left in the game.
"It feels good to have a career night and help the team win," Sanchez-Berrara said. "I feel like there's a weight off me.
"I'm tired of losing and we wanted to go down swinging. It wasn't easy."
Glendale raced to a 7-0 on its first possession, which covered nine plays and 63 yards. Running back Ra 'Shon Harper went the final 17 yards for a rushing touchdown to make it 7-0 with 11:11 remaining in the opening quarter.
Southwest knotted the game at 7 with 14.7 seconds left in the first quarter when Glendale quarterback Kevin Hunter threw a pass that linebacker Tim Carter returned 20 yards for a touchdown. The Cougars then took a 13-7 lead with 11:19 remaining in the second quarter when running back Ezekiel Graham caught a 35-yard screen pass from quarterback Shashaun Alexander for a touchdown.
The Vaqueros took a 14-13 lead on the ensuing possession, capped by a 42-yard touchdown run from Sanchez-Berrara. The Cougars responded 44 seconds later to take a 21-14 lead on a 66-yard touchdown pass from Alexander to tight end Hajee Shaw.
Unfazed, the Vaqueros rallied to tie the game at 21 on a two-yard touchdown run by running back Joshua Nakamoto with 4:16 left in the first half. Nakamoto finished with 92 yards rushing and one touchdown in 23 carries.
Gladden then stepped up for the Vaqueros when he recovered a fumble off a botched snap on a punt attempt at the Southwest 18. Glendale capitalized on the mishap when Sanchez-Berrara scored on a four-yard run to make it 28-21 with 1:50 left in the second quarter.
The Cougars cut the deficit to 28-27 when fullback Frederick Egans-Johnson scored on a one-yard run with 4.6 seconds left in the half.
After Sanchez-Berrara's third touchdown, Gladden came through with a pair of fourth-quarter fumble recoveries. The first came with 10:39 left when he scooped up a loose ball on the Glendale eight-yard line after lineman Nate Mestizo ripped the ball away from Graham. Gladden then returned the ball to midfield.
He then recovered his final fumble on the Southwest 34-yard line with 3:41 left. A minute later, the Vaqueros closed out the scoring on a four-yard run by Nakamoto.
"Those were some big plays and I was able to get to the ball all of those times," said Gladden, a sophomore. "We finally came together and finished the deal.
"It's my last game at GCC and I just wanted to go out with a win because we didn't want to go 0-10."
Hunter completed 11 of 20 passes for 163 yards.
Defensive back Eddie Smith had an interception in the second quarter for the Vaqueros.