The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
It wasn’t the debut College of San Mateo sophomore transfer Chris Zogrofos envisioned. But the hometown kid made the most of his brief opportunity nonetheless.
With CSM (2-3 overall) getting buried in a landslide 40-13 loss at American River College, the Bulldogs’ third-string quarterback and San Mateo native Zogrofos entered the game for garbage minutes late in the fourth quarter to bring at least some cheers to the CSM sideline.
Following American River’s final score of the evening — a 22-yard field goal by freshman Max O’Rourke to cap a cool 40 points for the Beavers — Zogrofos marched onto the field for his CSM debut, leading the Bulldogs downfield in five plays and punctuating it with a 13-yard scoring run. It was a gutsy one at that. Taking on an American River defender at the end of an option-read bootleg, Zogrofos pushed his way through the wall to bite off the corner of the end zone just inside the pylon.
A 2011 graduate of San Mateo High School, Zogrofos hadn’t seen live football action since 2012 during his freshman season at Foothill College. He walked away from the gridiron after that season with the birth of his daughter Athena. After two years of not knowing whether he’d ever set foot on the field again, he was all business Saturday regarding his mission of energizing his squad.
“It feels great,” Zografos said of returning to action. “I’m glad we showed some fight even if it was the last drive. Even if we’re down 100-0 we’ve got to keep fighting.”
Come the second half, one dominated by American River (4-1), CSM’s deficit quickly seemed as insurmountable.
This wasn’t the case heading into halftime, with the Beavers clinging to a 15-7 lead and the Bulldogs set to receive the second-half kickoff. But CSM’s offense was stifled for a three-and-out to start the half and Beavers freshman quarterback Griffin Dahn responded by leading his team on a gutsy 11-play, 67-yard march — making inches seem like miles by punctuating the drive with a QB dive on fourth-and-goal from the 1-foot line that just broke the plain of the goal line.
Staking American River to a 22-7 lead, it was the first of 25 consecutive points to open the half. Dahn was a force, gaining 366 total yards, including a precision air assault with his 20-for-32 passing for 311 yards and three TDs. More importantly, as the 6-5 freshman turned up the intensity in the second half, CSM was dominated both sides of the ball.
“We just made too many mistakes in the first half and gave a great team too many opportunities,” CSM head coach Larry Owens said. “You just can’t do that against good teams. And it just spiraled from there.”
The Bulldogs offense faced an uphill assignment from the outset without their best skill player, sophomore slot receiver Ramiah Marshall, who did not suit up due to injury.
Still, CSM sophomore quarterback Bobby Calmeyn went toe-to-toe with Dahn in the first half. The two traded bombs through the opening 30 minutes. Calmeyn responded to the game’s first score — a 19-yard touchdown chuck from Dahn to Jabarri Johnson at the end of the first quarter — with a retaliatory strike to start the second, hooking up with freshman receiver Line Latu for a 36-yard scoring pass to give CSM a 7-6 lead.
The Beavers came back over the top though with Dahn airing out a 45-yard touchdown pass to Lee Reed to retake the lead 12-7. But CSM nearly dealt its biggest bomb from the defensive side of the ball in the half’s waning seconds — but only nearly.
American River got pinned to its own 9-yard line with 2:32 remaining in the half but Dahn kept his offense on point. He delivered a clutch 17-yard completion to Reed on third-and-5 to near midfield. The QB tallied two more completions and also ran twice to advance the Beavers to the CSM 5-yard line.
But on third-and-goal from the 5, Dahn’s pass over the middle was intercepted by CSM sophomore safety Kava Maka, who had a notion of sprinting coast to coast. But as Maka looked to accelerate out of traffic with nothing but green grass in front of him, the ball was stripped, with the ensuing fumble being recovered by American River with two seconds remaining of the clock.
“All I was thinking was touchdown,” Maka said. “It was the end of the half … and I thought I had it.”
American River cashed in on its second life, with O’Rourke kicking a 32-yard field goal on the final play of the half to up the lead to 15-7.
Come the second half, anything in the way of CSM momentum seemed to swiftly be snuffed out by American River. After the Beavers went up 22-7 midway through the third quarter, Calmeyn cobbled together a drive with completions of 15 and 25 yards to get into American River territory.
But an apparent 30-yard touchdown pass to Latu on a quick timing route was negated with a yellow flag for an illegal man downfield. Four plays later, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs.
“The team is working to make big plays … and then you get a penalty — it’s hard,” Latu said. “You can’t come back from that.”
CSM forced a three-and-out with strong containment from defensive tackles Ahoia and Fabian Tufono, but CSM’s offense plummeted from there.
A 49-yard run by Bulldogs running back Keenan Smith to the Beavers’ 10-yard line proved the CSM’s last hurrah. Place kicker Carlos Silva followed with a missed 27-yard field-goal attempt, to which American River answered with a 47-yard Dahl-to-Brenden McCarthy touchdown pass.
After two consecutive three-and-outs for CSM, American River piled on. Backup quarterback Chris Guillen ran for a 4-yard touchdown to make it 37-7. After one more brief CSM possession, the Beavers capped their day with O’Rourke’s last field goal with 1:56 remaining.
American River outgained CSM 496-328. The Bulldogs totaled 15 first downs, but managed just five first in the second half, including two on the final drive with Zogrofos under center.
“Their defense played really great,” Latu said. “They adjusted to our hitches and our three-step routes. … I feel they game-plan really well.”
With the loss, CSM closes out non-conference play with a 2-3 record. After a bye week, the Bulldogs open Bay 6 Conference play Saturday, Sept. 15, hosting De Anza at College Heights Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.