GLENDALE -- It was a wild ride that looked to be headed to a favorable end for the Glendale Community College football team.
After struggling all night offensively, the Vaqueros finally got things together and scored two touchdowns in the final 12 minutes of their American Division Pacific Conference opener to take a one-point lead against visiting Antelope Valley College in the final 1:23 Saturday night at Sartoris Field.
The Marauders had the last laugh, though, as Alexander Byers dropped the ensuing kickoff but recovered to pick it up, head left and then cut back right with plenty of blockers leading him into the end zone for a 78-yard touchdown on the return. Antelope Valley capped the scoring at 37-30 with 1:06 to play when quarterback Benji Philippe found Hunter Sharp for a successful two-point conversion pass.
“I have never seen such unspecial special teams play. This is one for the asylum," Glendale Coach John Rome said. "In my 36 years coaching, I have never seen anything like this.
“I am proud of the effort of this football team. They gave it everything they had, but I am disappointed in how we lost.”
The Marauders held on for the seven-point win by that margin after Donte Johnson picked off a GCC pass with 2.7 seconds left in the game. Johnson’s interception at the one-yard line ended an eight-play, 39-yard drive that put Glendale 16 yards out from a score.
Offensively, the Vaqueros (2-2) struggled all night, but started putting things together in the fourth quarter. They didn’t score their first offensive touchdown until the final 12 minutes, despite setting up shop four and 38 yards away from a score earlier.
Glendale’s first offensive score came when quarterback Sean Murphy hit Isaiah Bernard (97 yards, two touchdowns on eight receptions) for a 30-yard touchdown pass that cut its deficit to 29-24 with 12:01 to play.
The Vaqueros’ next two chances at taking a lead were squandered on a punt and interception, but they got another shot. With 2:29 to play and still down by five, GCC took over at its own 44-yard line.
It picked up 23 quick yards on seven- and 16-yard runs from Marquise McGuire (118 yards on 18 carries) and Markel Keys, respectively. Two incompletions later, McGuire picked up a clutch first down on third and 10 with a 13-yard run to the 20. Murphy, who finished 21 of 49 for 194 yards, two scores and two interceptions, cashed in on the red zone look when he hit Bernard on a wheel route for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
It appeared that was the game, as Glendale went up 30-29 with 1:23 to play after its two-point conversion attempt on a pass to McGuire was just held short.
Byers provided the fourth overall and his second kickoff return touchdown of the night to break the heart of the home fans, however.
Defensively, GCC forced three turnovers on interceptions from Kenneth Ribeiro and R.J. Jackson and a fumble recovery from Patrick Hurd. Glendale also racked up four sacks, with Michael Hernandez in on three, including an assist with Marcus Tappan, and Deondre Mitchell adding another. Hernandez and David Smith both had two other tackles for a loss for GCC.
One of Glendale Community College’s scoring leaders on the night, Nathan Weston, didn’t even play on offense. The sophomore defensive back had two kickoff returns that went for touchdowns of 85 and 92 yards. It was the first time a Vaquero has ever returned a pair of kickoffs for scores in school history, according to the school’s sports information department.
Antelope Valley took a 29-17 lead with 8:43 to play in the third when Philippe found Byers with a 67-yard touchdown pass that gave the Marauders a 29-17 lead with 8:43 to play in the third.
The rollercoaster ride that was Glendale and Antelope Valley started right from the get-go. Three consecutive plays that came less than three minutes into the game set the tone early.
First, Glendale launched a seven-play drive that reached Antelope’s 13-yard line on the first possession of the game. The Vaqueros lined up for a 29-yard field goal, but the long snap skipped off the turf and Antelope Valley’s Deon Hawkins Jr. promptly scooped it up and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.
Eleven seconds later, the Vaqueros stole back the momentum when Weston returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and 7-6 GCC lead.
That also didn’t last long, as the Marauders responded with an 88-yard kickoff return of their own from Byers to complete a crazy three-play exchange.
Antelope Valley widened its margin to 16-7, after missing its first extra-point kick, on a 39-yard field goal from Keoki Kaiahua with 6:35 left in the first quarter. Weston stole back the momentum yet again and one-upped himself with a 92-yard return on the following kickoff to pull Glendale within two, 16-14, 13 seconds after the field goal.
GCC continued its impressive special teams play when Jaelan Rising-Barnwell blocked a punt at the Marauders’ 25-yard line. Mark Robinson picked up the ball at the eight-yard line and returned it to the four with 12:15 left in the first half.
The Vaqueros were unable to completely capitalize on the field position and settled for a 23-yard field goal from Dan Blackford to take their first lead, 17-16.
Antelope scratched out two field goals of 27 and 28 yards in the final 1:32 of the first half to take a 22-17 lead at the break.