By Matthew Dziak / Staff Writer
With nails bitten down to the bone and hearts skipping a beat, everyone at Citrus Stadium awaited the Tyler Rausa overtime field goal attempt.
With ice water running through his veins, Rausa kicked the ball through the uprights for a 40-yard game winning field goal, capping off the dramatic comeback victory for the gritty Tigers.
The No. 3 Riverside City College Tigers narrowly escaped an inter-conference upset by the No. 4 Citrus College Owls as the Tigers won, 21-18, in an overtime thriller on Oct. 20.
“Adversity; that’s the headline of this game,” said RCC coach Tom Craft.
Trailing 18-12 with less than two minutes remaining, Citrus managed to navigate the ball down to the 18-yard line before freshman quarterback Barnard Porter spiked the ball, stopping the clock with one second left in regulation.
As players from the Citrus sideline took a knee to pray, Porter took the snap from the 18-yard line and lofted up a floater that was reeled in by Josh Jones tying the game at 18 as time expired.
Thankfully for RCC, Isaiah Kepley missed the game winning point-after-touchdown attempt and the game headed to overtime.
Similar to the overcast draping the turf, the Owls’ defense smothered the typically explosive Tiger offense.
On the first play of the afternoon, quarterback Zach Adkins’ pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Owls’ linebacker Kody Duffy.
Adkins, who had only one interception through his first seven games, threw two interceptions in the first quarter.
Citrus (5-2) capitalized on its good fortune, scoring twice in the first quarter on the arm of Porter; initially on a 35-yard slant to Jo Jo Curiel and again on a 15-yard pass to Donovan Holmes.
Porter was baffled by the Tigers’ secondary; however, throwing four errant interceptions to Trey Hall, Naim Colbert, Ryan Coleman and Chris Gonzalez collectively.
“Our defense (was) able to keep the turnover ratio close was huge for us,” Craft said.
After being held scoreless in the first half for the first time all season, RCC (7-1) enacted the attributes of a tortoise, slowly working its way to a remarkable comeback.
Finally getting on the board, the opportunistic Tigers defense answered the call as safety Ryan Coleman intercepted Porter’s pass and returned it 14 yards for the touchdown, cutting the Owls’ lead to 12-7.
RCC’s stout defense finished with four interceptions, five sacks and surrendered only 228 yards.
On two separate occasions in the second half, both Adkins and Tyler Shreve mishandled the snap from center and had costly fumbles in the red zone as RCC was just yards away from scoring on each.
“There is no excuse for that,” Craft said.
On a crucial fourth and goal from the one-yard line, RCC committed a false start penalty and were forced to settle for a 22-yard Tyler Rausa field goal, tightening the score to 12-10 with 9:16 left in the game.
That drive was set up by the punishing run game led by E.J. Schexnayder, who carried the ball 25 times for 138 yards.
Schexnayder continues to lead the National Central Conference in rushing.
“We rode his back in the fourth quarter and picked our opportunities to go play action,” Craft said.
It seemed the Tigers’ fate was primed for a heartbreaking defeat, but with two minutes remaining Garrette Biggers changed that, returning a punt 68-yard for a touchdown.
After a two-point conversion pass from Adkins to Kenny Torrance the Tigers finally nabbed a late lead at 18-12.
“We found a way to win with special teams and defense,” Craft said.
The RCC offense, which leads the nation in scoring, was unable to score a touchdown for the first time in three years under Craft but still managed to pull out the victory and remain undefeated (4-0) in the National Central Conference.
“This was a game of will . . . not game plan, and that was reflected by the end result,” Craft said.