The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The special teams giveth. And the special teams taketh away.
Three weeks after College of San Mateo football escaped with a 1-point win when Sierra College botched a snap on would-be game-ending field goal, the Bulldogs got bit by a similar mishap.
This time, it was No. 2-ranked CSM (4-1 overall) that came out on the short end as the Bulldogs’ point-after try was blocked with one minute remaining in regulation, allowing No. 6 American River College (4-1) to avoid overtime and celebrate a 21-20 victory Saturday at College Heights Stadium.
“It’s heartbreaking,” CSM head coach Larry Owens said. “It’s heartbreaking just because we’ve been talking about this for a while with the kids. Little things matter; and little things hurt us. … That’s the takeaway. It hurts. And I hope the kids feel this way.”
Just five minutes prior to the decisive PAT block, with CSM trailing 21-14, sophomore punter/place-kicker Justin Watts had given CSM the clutch play for which it was desperately searching all afternoon. In a game where American River outgained CSM 361-292 in total offense, Watts executed a picturesque punt with cover man Freddie Gaines sprinting down to pin the ball inside the Beavers 1-yard line.
“My goal going out there was to put the defense as deep as possible,” Watts said. “So, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Sophomore linebacker Colt Doughty and the CSM defense forced a three-and-out, with the ensuing punt by the Beavers giving the Bulldogs possession just shy of midfield with 3:53 remaining in regulation. It proved more than enough time for CSM quarterback Miles Kendrick to lead his crew downfield.
Kendrick and running back Cameron Taylor were a two-man show out of the Bulldogs backfield. The freshman tandem — Kendrick at 5-11, 200 pounds; Taylor at 5-8, 165 pounds — accounted for all but three CSM carries on the day. And the two set the tempo for the potential game-tying drive, with Kendrick keeping the rock for gains of 5, 7 and 9 yards, and Taylor with rushes of 6 and 8 to put the Bulldogs at the American River 20.
“He’s a tough dude,” Kendrick said of Taylor. Each carried the ball 23 times with similar results. Taylor totaled a game-high 78 rushing yards; Kendrick ran for 77 yards and was 11-of-23 passing for 118 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“Both him and I, when you look at us, you may say we’re undersized,” Kendrick said. “But we both play with a chip on our shoulders.”
Three plays later, Kendrick took an option bootleg around the left side a dove for the pylon to close the score to 21-20 with 1:01 remaining. But a personnel issue on the offensive line caused the play clock to run below five seconds before CSM snapped the ball for the PAT. American River defensive tackle Kaleb Meder timed the kick perfectly and swatted it away with his big bear claw to stun the Bulldogs.
“I feel like I might have hit it a little low,” Watts said. “I hit it good … but I think he timed it well. He got in the right lane and got a hand on it.”
“It’s good to end that way with a block,” American River head coach Jon Osterhout said. “It’s devastating to lose that way though. We were definitely expecting to go to overtime there.”
It was a defensive battle throughout, with CSM setting the tone early on American River’s first drive of the game. The Beavers lost their starting quarterback, freshman Hunter Rodrigues, who was leveled after a 16-yard run on his team’s fourth play of the game. CSM sophomore safety Deon White was flagged for a personal foul for hitting Rodrigues while he was attempting to run out of bounds. At the start of the second quarter, Rodrigues departed with concussion-like symptoms.
American River turned to sophomore backup quarterback Peyton Wilfley, who played his freshman season for the Beavers in 2014. Saturday, Wilfley went on to post a career-high 295 passing yards, completing 20 of 33 attempts with three touchdowns and one interception.
“We knew we had a seasoned vet who we could trust in,” Osterhout said. “The proof was in the pudding today.”
CSM halted American River’s opening drive though. Wilfley’s first pass attempt came on fourth down from the Bulldogs 3 when, as a place-holder, he tossed an attempt on a fake field-goal try that was dropped in the end zone. From there, the score stayed 0-0 after one quarter, was tied 7-7 at the half and stayed that way until the fourth quarter.
On the third play of the fourth quarter, though, American River sparked a scoring flurry. Wilfley connected with sophomore Arthur Jackson for a 21-yard score; the Beavers’ PAT was blocked, though, to keep the score at 13-7.
The Bulldogs answered back with a nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive, capped by a 5-yard scoring run by Kendrick, to take a 14-13 lead.
American River drove right back, with Wilfley sustaining the drive. CSM whiffed on back-to-back interception chances, including one that went right through the hands of sophomore safety Jordan Hendy.
On the following play, facing third-and-10 from his own 36, Wilfley scrambled out of the pocket, high-stepping away from a potential sack, to fire a 39-yard pass to a wide-open Ryan Robards. Then Wilfley connected with Jackson again, this time for a 25-yard timing strike; combined with a 2-point conversion, the Beavers took a 21-14 lead.
“We left some plays out there in the secondary,” Owens said. “And they made the plays. That’s what the game is. They made the plays at the right time.”
CSM enters a bye week before returning for its Bay 6 Conference opener, travelling to De Anza College Sat., Oct. 14 for a 1 p.m. kickoff.