The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

San Mateo JUCO powerhouse averts Nor Cal title game disaster on Roberson’s last-minute INT in end zone

CSM safety Amari Roberson intercepts a pass in the fourth quarter to preserve a 30-27 win over American River College in the CCCAA Northern California championship game Saturday at College Heights Stadium. Photo by Patrick Nguyen.

CSM safety Amari Roberson intercepts a pass in the fourth quarter to preserve a 30-27 win over American River College in the CCCAA Northern California championship game Saturday at College Heights Stadium. Photo by Patrick Nguyen.

The College of San Mateo Bulldogs retained the CCCAA Northern California football championship by the skin of their pointy teeth.

After taking a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs (11-1) held off a late surge by American River College to claim a 30-27 victory Saturday at College Heights Stadium. The Beavers scored two touchdowns within a minute and half of each other, then recovered a CSM fumble their own 25 with 5:54 to play.

ARC (10-2) drove downfield, using 10 plays to move the ball to CSM’s 19-yard line. But after a Beavers false-start penalty, CSM safety Amari Roberson wrapped up the Nor Cal title by intercepting Kenneth Lueth’s pass in the end zone with one minute to play.

“We earned one more week,” CSM head coach Tim Tulloch said. “We’ve got a chance to go to L.A. and play So Cal’s best and got a chance to play for the state championship. I’m so proud of the staff, so proud of the kids and all our kids. They earned this. That was a hell of a game.”

The Bulldogs hadn’t come up with a turnover all afternoon, but two CSM turnovers loomed large down the stretch. CSM dominated on offense, outgaining ARC 373-111 in total yards. The Bulldogs’ defensive front set the tone, producing three sacks on the Beavers’ first two possessions, and getting to Lueth for five sacks on the day.

CSM quarterback Anthony Grigsby moved into outright control as the program’s second leading single-season touchdown passer of all-time. The redshirt freshman was 13-of-20 for 282 yards through the air with three touchdown passes, giving him 33 on the year. Only Sal Genilla, who totaled 38 TD passes in 1985, has more.

CSM receiver Terence Loville makes a touchdown catch in the third quarter Saturday. Photo by Patrick Nguyen.

CSM receiver Terence Loville makes a touchdown catch in the third quarter Saturday. Photo by Patrick Nguyen.

Grigsby’s third touchdown pass of the day, a 33-yard toss to sophomore Jeremiah Patterson with 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter, staked the Bulldogs to a comfortable 30-13 lead. But things went haywire in the fourth quarter, as ARC — as it so often does — proved a relentless nemesis to CSM.

“You’ve got two great teams going at it,” Tulloch said. “We were up, so they had to drive it and put it into the end zone to win it. Their guys made some unbelievable plays. You tip your cap to those guys. I’m just so proud of our dudes, when we needed it most, we answered. And that’s what this defense has done all year is, in crunch time, when we’ve really needed it, has always answered.”

CSM got a stop on the ensuing possession, logging two more sacks — one from sophomore linebacker Pau Reed on first down, and another from defensive end Ezra Funa and safety Ti’a Malini on third down — to force a punt. But the Beavers’ defense held too, forcing a three-and-out and putting Lueth and company back on the offensive.

A shanked CSM punt put the Beavers at their own 45, and a CSM late hit penalty advanced them across midfield. Four plays later, Lueth hit standout sophomore receiver Robert Freeman for an impressive 23-yard completion near the sideline in tight coverage. The Beavers scored on the next play, a 1-yard blast by sophomore Joshua Moore, to close the score to 30-20.

Two plays into CSM’s next possession, Grigsby misfired over the middle with ARC linebacker Josh Tremain nabbing the interception at the Bulldogs’ 36. Two plays later, Lueth connected with Robert Freeman again, this time for a 20-yard scoring pass in the corner with the fade seeming to go right through the CSM cornerback, who stayed step for step with his mark even as the ball arrived to make it 30-27.

“Credit to those guys,” Roberson said. “Their coaches schemed up plays to get the athlete the ball, and he did what he does. He made plays. Players are going to make plays. It’s part of the game, up and down.”

CSM got the ball back with 8:29 to play quickly went on the move. Running back Nate Sanchez was enjoying a good day, totaling 23 carries for 98 yards. But the sophomore’s 23rd carry nearly spelled disaster.

A jarring hit knocked the ball loose, and ARC’s Michael Chavez recovered at the Beavers’ 25. Lueth then moved his offense, opening with a 12-yard pass to Seth Bozzi, and later extending the drive on fourth-and-5 from the CSM 31 with 5-yard completion to Mikaiah Stephenson.

That set the stage for Roberson’s game-saving interception three plays later. Roberson manning the post safety and had to mind the short zone in case ARC tried to slip a screen route underneath. The sophomore said once he saw the short zone clear, he read the quarterback as he straightened up to throw.

“I seen one (receiver), but it was a little shorter, so I didn’t bite that bullet,” Roberson said. “I seen his shoulders flip to go deep, and then I just made the play.”

The Bulldogs had three defenders, including Sione Laulea and Jermaine Hargraves, guarding the receiver. Lueth, however, said he saw some daylight at the back of the end zone.

“He was open, I’ve just got to put the ball in,” Lueth said.

It was another thrilling finish between the two teams this season. In Week 4, the Bulldogs held on for a 24-23 win after ARC scored with 58 seconds to play, but failed on the ensuing 2-point conversion try.

“They’re a phenomenal team, a phenomenal group,” Lueth said. “They always give us a good matchup, and we always give them a good game too.”

Things took a sour turn for the Bulldogs at the end of their first drive. The ground game had CSM moving, with Sanchez and Matthew White splitting carries to help move the ball into the red zone. But on second-and-6 from the ARC 8, with all the momentum going CSM’s way, Grigsby was intercepted in the end zone on a forced pass that Desmin Hatfield-Rushton stepped in front of for a pick in the end zone.

ARC scored first, with a TD running back Elias Brown in the opening minute of the second quarter. A missed point-after try left the Bulldogs trailing 6-0, and CSM later scored its first points on when ARC mishandled a punt snap deep in its own territory, and Fynn Williams made the tackle in the end zone for a safety.

The Bulldogs were up against it after a safety kick gone awry though. ARC’s kickoff was taken at the 5-yard line, but CSM receiver slipped and went down at his own 6. From there, the CSM offense finally found a rhythm, got moving, and hit paydirt.

It took the Bulldogs six plays to march 94 yards, with two quick runs by Sanchez of 8 and 11 yards giving them a first down. Then Grigsby flipped the field with a 27-yard strike to Anthony Freeman to move it to the ARC 43. Two plays later, Grigsby connected with Terence Loville for a 23-yard pass to the 16. The Bulldogs then found the end zone on a 16-yard loft pass from Grigsby to Fidel Pitts in the back corner, giving CSM a 9-6 lead.

CSM went up 16-6 just before the half, when Grigsby hit Loville for a 5-yard TD pass with 10 seconds to go. ARC scored midway through the third quarter on a 10-yard TD throw from Lueth to Robert Freeman. The Bulldogs fired back with two straight scores in the period. A quick five-play drive, highlighted by a 63-yard pass from Grigsby to Loville, was capped by a 1-yard Sanchez score. After an ARC three-and-out, CSM drove 76 yards on six plays, with a 33-yard pass from Grigsby to Patterson upping the lead to 30-13 with 49 seconds to go in the third.

The Bulldogs now advance to the CCCAA state championship game, this coming Saturday, Dec. 9. CSM travels to Riverside Community College (11-1). Riverside earned the Southern California championship with a 45-26 win over Ventura College.