By Robert Johnson
A battle of bitter rivals touched down in Wheelock Stadium as the Riverside City College Tigers hosted a highly contested football game against 2017’s California Community College Athletic Association champions, the Fullerton Hornets.
The game took place during week two of the Tigers football season, Sept. 8.
In last years Southern California Football Association championship game these two teams faced off. What resulted was a devastating loss for the Tigers as the Hornets dominated throughout the entirety of the game, winning 75-16. Coming off of the championship loss the Tigers, ranked number third in the state, were eager for their early season rematch against the reigning state champions.
The Tigers would fall just short in a back and forth offensive showcase with the state champion Hornets 34-33. In a potential Orange Empire Conference championship game, these two teams played aggressively throughout the entirety of the game.
The game started with Fullerton taking the offensive initiative and scoring a touchdown on their first drive. After quickly receiving the ball back, Fullerton again scored a touchdown off of a five-yard run with their second possession. However, the Hornets would miss their point after try attempt, containing their score to 13-0.
Looking to storm back from a 13-0 deficit, the Tigers subbed in their goal line package and Vic Viramontes lined up at the quarterback position. Viramontes would find his way into the end zone with a three yard run giving the Tigers their first score of the game. Viramontes taking the snap could’ve been a surprise to most since he now lines up on the defensive side of the ball at the linebacker position, instead of quarterback where he won the SCFA offensive player of the year award last season.
Other than rushing in his lone touchdown of the night, Viramontes went on to finish his night with five tackles making his home debut at linebacker.
The Hornets would display run-heavy offense in their next drive, taking 13 plays to score their next touchdown.
Soon after, sophomore running back Malik Walker garnered a touchdown of his own right before the first half concluded, taking the Tigers into halftime down by six at a score of 20-14. This score gave the Tigers the momentum they needed going into the second half.
In the third quarter, Walker would again take to the end zone with another rushing touchdown to start the second half. Walker would go on to run for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
On the very next drive, Fullerton’s quarterback Gresch Jensen linked up with receiver Markelle Raymond for an 88-yard bomb, a momentum shifting play giving the Hornets the lead 28-21 after a successful two-point conversion.The Tigers struggled to defend against the pass for the remainder of the game as Jensen threw for 410 yards and two touchdowns throughout the matchup, with 281 of those yards obtained in the third and fourth quarters.
Responding to the Fullerton score, wide receiver Antonio Mitchell found his way into the end zone getting his first touchdown of the season off of a five-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Stone Smartt. An unfortunate missed extra point would leave the Tigers faced with a one point deficit, 28-27.
Smartt, later scrambled in for a score of his own in the fourth quarter with 9:30 remaining giving the Tigers the lead 33-28. Despite their missed two-point conversion attempt, this would be the first lead in the game for RCC. Smartt would go on to nab 268 total yards and two total touchdowns.
The Hornets struck back immediately, driving down the field scoring a touchdown taking the lead back, 34-33, with only 16 seconds remaining in the game.
Smartt would attempt a nigh-impossible feat of getting the Tigers within field goal range with only a few seconds left in the game to play. As Smartt looked long downfield, hoping to find a playmaking catcher, the game would come to a devastating end as Fullerton would garner the last sack of the game on Smartt, drawing out the rest of the clock to end the game.
It was a hard fought game from the Tigers coming just short of the victory, falling to a record of 1-1.
Linebacker Mitchell Agude would look at this loss with the glass half full approach.
“We need to take this loss as a learning point and take this loss as a family because that’s what we are,” Agude said.
On the defensive end for the Tigers, lineman Daryl French finished with a game high of nine tackles. Mitchell Agude finished with eight tackles and added a blocked extra point to his resume. Christian Swint finished the game with seven tackles and also had three pass break ups. Also, sophomore defensive lineman Nicolas Figueroa recorded the only sack for the Tigers defense.
Despite the loss, the Tigers are arguably moving in the right direction. From losing by 59 points in a championship game to losing by only one against the defending state champions, it’s likely that the Tigers will remain state contenders by seasons end.
“We’re a new team,” Viramontes said. “We were healthy, we had no injuries. We need to just keep getting better. I think we’ll meet each other again in the playoffs. Once we get going and get rolling, we’re going to be a tough team to beat and the next time we meet, it’s going to be a different outcome.