The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
On a day already full of emotion, the College of San Mateo Bulldogs’ Northern California championship season ended in a devastating heartbreaker.
In the final of game of head coach Larry Owens’ 21-year career, the Bulldogs surrendered a touchdown in the final minute to fall 16-12 to Southern California champion Fullerton in the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship game Saturday at Hughes Stadium.
“I thought if we kept them around 21 points we’d have good chance to win,” Owens said. “I thought we’d do a little bit better on offense. It didn’t happen. But that’s OK. I’m just proud of the kids. Not just this game. I’m proud of them for the whole season. We’ve had our ups and downs, but they kept battling, did a great job, and we just came up a little bit short.”
Offense was at a premium with Fullerton — two weeks after a 75-16 win over Riverside in the Southern California championship game — as the Hornets (13-0 overall) out-gained the Bulldogs 343-313. The only touchdown CSM scored came on a trick play. To that point, the Bulldogs tried 10 previous possessions and only had a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter by Justin Watts to show for them.
CSM (11-2) took the lead with 6:27 remaining in regulation on a 62-yard option pass from wide receiver Line Latu to freshman Rajae Johnson. But in the closing minute, on a CSM punt from deep in its own territory, Fullerton sophomore Justin Manyweather executed a backbreaker return of 59 yards to inside the Bulldogs 1-yard line.
“We had dudes there to make the play and that guy is just an incredible athlete,” Watts said. “What do you do? Special players make special plays on special days, and that’s a special player right there.”
On the following play, Fullerton sophomore running back Gerald Hulett went flying over the top on a dive for the game-winning score. CSM linebacker Colt Doughty said the strategy of lining up in the goal-line defense was simple.
“Stop ’em,” Doughty said. “I don’t know what else to say. It’s goal line so just stick it in there. I thought they were going to sneak it so I got up on the center, and then they latch-arm grabbed me and I couldn’t make the play.”
It was a devastating conclusion to a brilliant defensive performance, especially by the CSM secondary.
After the Bulldogs took the fourth-quarter lead, Fullerton took two drives deep into CSM territory. Over the course of both drives, Hornets sophomore Johnny Feauto put three different passes right on the mark to various receivers. Each of them was broken up by stellar defensive efforts in 1-on-1 matchups.
“We trust each other,” CSM cornerback Dorrzel Hicks said. “It happens in practice, it’s going to happen in the game. We just kept running, kept believing in each other and didn’t give up, kept our heads up.”
With just over four minutes remaining, Feauto from the CSM 26 took a shot at Manyweather up the sideline, but sophomore cornerback Jordan Hendy was right there to disrupt the accurate loft. Two plays later, Feauto went over the middle but freshman Jamarri Jackson got around the intended target inside the 5 and slapped the attempt away.
Fullerton then missed on a potential game-tying field goal from 36 yards out. But two plays later, the Hornets got the ball back when CSM freshman quarterback Miles Kendrick underthrew a pass for an interception by freshman Jacob Jones, who returned it to the Bulldogs 28.
The Hornets went right back to the air with Feauto looking over the middle for freshman Robert Downs, but another CSM defensive back, this time freshman Jalen Hicks, got a hand on it to deny a potential touchdown. And two plays later, Feauto was intercepted by freshman Evan Dawson in a play that, at the time, looked to be a clincher for CSM.
But Fullerton’s defense followed with a big stop of its own. With the Bulldogs needing just two first downs to be able to run out the clock, they faced a pivotal third-and-4 from their own 11. The CSM run game stayed consistently between the tackles all day, and went to running back Cameron Taylor on a draw play. On the day, the freshman workhorse rushed 25 times for a game-high 111 yards. But it was the one yard he didn’t get on the 3-yard, third-down pickup that forced the Bulldogs to punt.
On the pivotal punt to follow, Watts put one heck of a boom on it. Putting it right down the middle of the field didn’t matter when it left the sophomore’s foot, he said.
“We were thinking they were probably going to bring a lot of pressure,” Watts said. “So, I was more worried about getting it off, getting a good punt, get it high; let’s get down there and cover it. We just didn’t make the tackles.”
The only scoring drive CSM’s defense surrendered came in the first quarter. The defense had already put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard when, on Fullerton’s first play from scrimmage, Hicks and Doughty took down quarterback Landarius Skelton in the end zone for a safety.
CSM managed just one first down over its next two possessions though, and Fullerton responded with a nine-play, 57-yard scoring drive capped by an 11-yard scoring pass from Feauto to Markus Grossman to put the Hornets up 7-2.
Watts added the second-quarter field goal to make in 7-5. But at the start of the second half, Kendrick was penalized for intentional grounding out of the end zone for a safety to up Fullerton’s lead to 9-5.
“Both teams are great teams,” Owens said. “We just made a little bit too many mistakes early. We had opportunities and didn’t capitalize on them. Good teams usually capitalize on those situations and we didn’t do it.”