By Matthew Dziak / Asst. Sports Editor
By Matthew Dziak / Asst. Sports Editor
The Riverside City College football team, ranked No. 6 in the nation, ended its heavyweight match against Mount San Antonio College, ranked No. 2 in the nation, with a 29-26 upset victory at the Wheelock Stadium on Sept. 24.
The Tigers took to the field poised and full of pent up energy in pre-game warm-ups, ready to unleash on the favored Mounties.
The Tigers had a slow start with a three-and-out on the opening drive and the defense surrendered a lucky bounce off of the cross bar on a field goal attempt, giving the Mounties an early 3-0 lead.
The inability to score in the first quarter, gave concern to RCC fans of a disappointing home loss.
Mt. San Antonio College, who is the two-time defending national champion, entered the game with a 26-game win streak and seemed confident and determined to extend their streak.
On the Tigers second drive, Dalton Livingston was intercepted by Richard Thorpe and returned the ball to the RCC’s three yard line.Following the play the Mounties were able to run in for a touchdown to lead 9-0.
Riverside’s offense continued to struggle when it was stopped on a fourth-and-one run attempt from the Tigers’ own 39- yard line, which led to another Mounties field goal.
In the second quarter the Tigers managed to find a way back into the game.
The team capped off an impressive 12 play, 83-yard touchdown drive, which was finished when Livingston connected on an 18-yard pass over the top of Mt. SAC’s secondary, finding Sadale Foster in the back of the end zone.
Livingston finished the game with 16 completions on 36 attempts for 248-yards and two touchdowns.
With the touchdown, RCC cut the Panthers’ lead to 12-7, which stood through halftime.
Coming out of halftime, the Tigers offense operated with a balance of spread offense and quick passes, while still punishing the defense with a physical run game which led to Jamil Austin’s one-yard touchdown run that gave the Tigers their first lead at 14-12.
“Our plan was to use open spread sets and utilize the passing game alongside with the heavy package to run the football effectively when it was not earlier in the game,” said coach Tom Craft. “When you do that they cannot zero-in on one aspect.”
Foster said RCC was matching Mt. SAC’s intensity in the first half but the team was not executing on its offensive side.
“We knew in the second half they were going to try to pound us, so we wanted to try and mix it up and keep them guessing,” Foster said. “We finally hit them over the top for the touchdown.”
Just as the Tigers seemed to gain momentum, the Mounties scored on a 60-yard touchdown from Alonzo Agwuenu, who caught a quick slant pass and beat the defense and sprinted for a touchdown giving the Mounties a 19-14 lead.
“We have not been in this situation before, but I think that this group that has won 10 games last year had a lot at stake and they knew it,” Craft said.
The marching band tuned up the fight song and the “jungle” section of the Tigers’ fans erupted after Livingston connected with Foster for a 90-yard touchdown that gave RCC a 22-19 lead and swung the momentum back to the home team’s favor in the fourth quarter.
Despite the bad performance Livinston had in the first quarter, Foster said he didn’t let his quarterback hang his head.
“I have confidence in him,” Foster said. “I told him I know his abilities and I know his arm strength.”
“(Livinston) can’t let that get to him because it’s a mind thing when you’re playing quarterback,” he said. “He could have easily got down on himself but we had a strong supporting cast from the linemen who told him ‘we’re going to get this win’ and we were right there behind him.”
“We went on his back and he carried us,” Foster said.
Foster, who now has seven touchdown receptions in the first three games, has been the Tigers best weapon when in need of a big play.
He finished with four receptions for 137-yards and two touchdowns in another clutch performance.
On the ensuing Mounties drive, defensive back Bruce Jones intercepted Cameron Deen’s pass and returned the ball back to the Mounties eight-yard line, giving the RCC’s offense excellent field position.
E.J. Schexnayder, who had 60-yards on 16 carries, scored on a five-yard touchdown run giving the Tigers the lead at 29-19.
Jones was not done yet because as he jumped a quick slant route, he intercepted Deen’s pass again.
He finished with six pass break-ups and was the one to create the plays that proved to be a game changer for the Riverside defense.
With 3:36 left to play, the Mounties answered quickly with a nine play drive that ended with a 74-yard touchdown after Deen found his running back Matthew Botello on a 32-yard pass taking only 2:17 off the clock.
Trailing 29-26, the Mounties attempted an onside kick, but failed to recover and the Tigers were able to line up in the victory formation, taking a knee to run out the clock and solidify the win.
“We had a couple of shots that we converted and they were the difference in the game,” Craft said.
The win not only was important for the season but it was important for RCC to win the game for its coach.
“It feels great for my coach as him being a former Mt. SAC guy,” Foster said. “He’s more proud of us than anything.”
“We knew throughout the week that he wanted it but we needed to want it more than him,” he said. “Tonight I feel like we wanted it more.”
RCC knew the game vs. Mt. SAC was huge but it was only one of many games they need to face.
“It actually feels great but there are bigger games to come but it feels great,” Foster said to sum up the heavyweight game.