With their back against the wall, the Hornets played their most impressive game of the season, knocking the Tigers from the ranks of the unbeaten in a 55-21 blowout at Shapell Stadium Saturday night.
“I think we are capable of playing like this every week, our kids played hard, we followed the game plan and good things happened,” said Tim Byrnes, Hornets head coach. “We always have the ability to do that physically, but it all comes down to whether we can mentally every week.”
After losing back-to-back games and slated to play the top football team in California, the Hornet’s season appeared to be headed in the wrong direction. The Tigers on the other hand, entered the week on the opposite end of the spectrum; undefeated and ranked No.1 in California by the CCCAA– after receiving a unanimous vote from the CCCFCA coaches.
All of the momentum Riverside had coming into the game, or lack thereof for Fullerton went out the window before the sun set at Shapell stadium, as the Hornets jumped out to a two score lead before the Tigers could secure a possession.
The Hornets took the opening drive 77 yards on five plays, punctuated with a 16-yard touchdown run by Phillip Butler.
Marcus Kirkpatrick recovered a Tigers fumble on the ensuing kickoff to setup the Hornets next score. Kicker Tavis Guerra took advantage of the great field position with a 20-yard field goal, giving the Hornets a 10-0 lead less than five minutes into the contest.
The Tigers offense that entered the night averaging 36 points per game could only muster 14 points, thanks in large part to the Hornets four takeaways– two fumble recoveries on special teams and two interceptions by the defense.
Kirkpatrick came away with two of the Hornets four turnovers and added three solo tackles. In addition to the fumble recovery on the kickoff, the sophomore defensive back also intercepted Tigers quarterback Kevin Olsen late in the third quarter, setting up the Hornet’s final touchdown.
The Hornets season-high 303 net rushing yards also helped keep the Tigers high-scoring offense off the field for much of the game with the Hornets doubling the Tigers in time of possession– 40:48 to 19:12.
Butler led the Hornets ground attack with a personal best 218 yards and two touchdowns. Jake Brito also had a big night, finishing with 114 total yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore LJ Gainey led the team in receiving with 61 yards, including the final score, a 17-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“We knew that Riverside was the number one team, so we had to come out with a chip on our shoulders,” Gainey said. “We know that we have a lot of talent on offense and we haven’t been clicking all year, but we turned it around and came out with the mentality that we were going to score on every drive.”
Trey Tinsley had an efficient night as quarterback for the Hornets, throwing for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
Tigers running backs Seth Acda and Dontel James both eclipsed 100 yards on a total of 24 carries combined. However, trailing the entire game– especially down 52-21 just seven seconds into the fourth quarter, the Tigers were forced to abandon the run for much of the game.
All three of the Hornet’s victories this season have come against top ranked competition. Byrnes stressed that the losses this year were not from a lack of talent, but rather a lack of focus mentally.
“When [the players] are challenged, they play much better, so I think that has been the problem this year,” Byrnes said.
“If you look at the three teams we have beat, at least one of those teams is going to have a chance at the end of the year to play for the championship, then you look at the three games where we played against good, but not great teams, we failed on,” Byrnes said. “I think it’s going to take them looking deep inside of themselves and saying ‘we got to pickup our game no matter who we play.'”
The Hornets (3-3, 0-2) take on Santa Ana College (1-4, 0-1) in the 93rd annual Key to the County game next Saturday at Shapell Stadium, kickoff is at 6 p.m. The Key to the County game is the nation’s oldest community college football rivalry, dating back to 1916. The Hornets will be attempting to win their ninth consecutive game over the Dons, a streak that began in 2007. At halftime on Saturday, the 1965 Junior Rose Bowl National Championship team will be honored, celebrating their 50 year anniversary.