By Jair Ramirez
A clutch catch and a clutch tackle by two season-long clutch players proved to be the deciding factor in Riverside City College’s dramatic bid to repeat as Southern California Football Association (SCFA) champions.
It had been a back-and-forth game until RCC quarterback Jordan Barton completed a 79-yard pass for a touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Jammal Houston.
Then, late in the fourth quarter, Barton and Houston connected on a 36-yard catch on a critical third down and reached the Golden West 14-yard line, setting up a field goal and seemingly putting the game out of reach after a missed PAT by the Rustlers.
“My team needed a big play and got one out of me,” Houston said.
With just over a minute left, all RCC had to do was recover the onside kick and run out the clock.
They did not.
After a quick succession of plays, Golden West was on RCC’s 15-yard line with five seconds left.
Jake Retzlaff completed a pass to wide receiver Nick Kennewell but SCFA Central Defensive Player of the Year Noa Purcell stood him up on the one yard line as time expired.
“I had to execute and it felt great,” Purcell said.
Two clutch plays by two clutch players after a first-half offensive stalemate.
RCC and Golden West played it safe in the first half, trying to figure each other out.
“We did a great job of matching their intensity on defense,” RCC coach Tom Craft said.
Both of the team’s offensive plays consisted of short, quick passes and inside runs.
The game’s first score came off a Golden West 39-yard field goal by kicker Jake Cipres early in the second quarter.
Freshman kicker Ricardo Chavez returned the favor, tying the game 3-3 with a 51-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter.
The Tigers’ offense finally got rolling when Barton completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Devvin Gitchuway midway through the third quarter to take a 10-3 lead.
“Jordan wasn’t seeing things early in the game,” Craft said. “Then he started to relax and got more aggressive with the passing game.”
The Rustlers responded and the back and forth continued with both offenses hitting their stride.
The Rustlers almost pulled within a field goal but missed what would be an important extra point kick making it 27-23 and leading to Purcell’s defensive stop.
RCC avenged the 37-20 defeat to Golden West earlier this season. It was the first of two consecutive losses which had not happened in the Craft era. RCC has now won eight straight games.
“This was the biggest game we were going to play all season and we got our revenge,” Barton said.
Barton won the Most Valuable Player of the game award and Houston was named best offensive player.
RCC will play in the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship at Mount San Antonio College on Dec.11 against San Francisco City College.