The Hornets hosted Southern Conference foe Golden West College Saturday night in a 66-43 shootout victory over the Rustlers.
The game had serious Southern Conference title implications. The Hornets and the Rustlers both came into the game with only one loss on there records, but both undefeated in conference play. It was the Hornets ball-hungry defense early, and unstoppable running game late acting like bookends to seal the Hornets victory over Rustlers talented aerial assault.
The Hornets defense had their hands full with the Rustlers potent tandem of quarterback Chris d’Entremont and wide receiver Zimari Manning. The prolific passing duo came into the game having connected on 11 touchdowns and over 470 yards through the air in the first four games. d’Entremont also entered the contest with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.
The fierce battle between the d’Entremont-Manning connection and the Hornets defense was a tale of two halves. The Hornets first team defensive unit clamped down through two quarters, holding the tandem to one big play, but with guys banged up and a large lead after the half the Hornets sat several key defenders and Manning looked indefensible and un-tackleable.
Fullerton’s defense came out brimming with confidence and tried to close the door on Golden West early, forcing a punt, three fumbles including two returned for touchdowns, and a turnover on downs in the Rustlers first five possessions. The game looked all but over before the glaring crimson sun set over the Yorba Linda hills surrounding Shapell Stadium. The score was 28-0 just over two minutes into the second quarter.
Defensive Coordinator Brian Crooks commented on his defense creating turnovers early on.
“We did tackle circuits and turnover circuits. It was individuals week. I told my guys play hard, and they came out and played hard,” he said.
Hornets QB Joey Verhaegh hit WR Jarell Moss in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard score two minutes into the second. It was the quarterback’s second score of the game. Verhaegh played a near flawless game finding success spreading the ball around to nine different receivers for 216 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Rustlers offense showed a spark of life when Manning caught a short pass from d’Entremont and took it 71 yards for the score with just over 11 minutes to play in the second. However, the Rustler offense went silent for the remainder of the half.
The third quarter started out with the Hornets driving 56 yards capped off by a QB sneak from the one-yard line to put FC up 42-6. The drive was setup by an interception by defensive back Walter Roberson on the Rustlers first series.
It wasn’t until there was under two minutes to play in the third quarter that the Rustlers finally began to strike with some consistency. That is when d’Entremont found Manning on a fade route for a 64-yard score.
“We lost a corner that was man to man on him all first half. Marnez Ogletree, he was defending him [Manning] all game,” Crooks said. “He went down and we just didn’t have anyone to cover him after that.”
Ogletree who left the game early in the third quarter, finished with four solo tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. This left the defense more vulnerable.
Manning hauled in two more scores through the air and finished with a unreal 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown too, giving the wideout five TD’s and 296 yards for the game. The kickoff return was one of the most unbelievable plays one will ever see, Manning was bottled-up at about the Rustlers 45-yard line by what seemed like all 11 Hornets defenders, at least 8 touched him, but somehow Manning kept fighting, spinning and churning his way free at the Hornets 45-yard line, broke free and took it the distance for the touchdown.
Every time Rustlers scored late in the game, the Hornets would answer right back with a score of there own. Hornets running back Wilson scored midway way through the fourth on a 44-yard touchdown. Late in the fourth Hornets RB Oran Maxwell joined the party with two scores of his own (37, 26 yards).
The leading WR for the Hornets was LJ Gainey, who finished with five catches for 48 yards.
“We played good, came out fast and aggressive. Everybody was on the same page and playing as a unit,” Gainey said. “Our coaches made a big deal this week about capitalizing on our opportunities and we did.”
Gainey was injured late in the second quarter, but he did not stay on the trainers table long. The wideout was back on the field to start the second half.
“I got tackled and he [the defend]) rolled up on the inside of my foot and sprained it. The trainer definitely said I sprained it,” Gainey added. “I probably should of sat down, but I didn’t want to let my teammates down.”
Despite the overwhelming success of both the first team offense and defense, there are still areas that need to be addressed. Crooks thinks there is room for improvement within the second and third units.
“We lost a lot of guys with injuries and then those guys [backup units] showed why they are down there, why they are a three. They need to watch the film and learn,” Crooks said. “They need to get in there and learn and get better. We don’t have a bye week until week 10, so we need to stay healthy.”
The Hornets stuck with their rushing attack and it was probably the difference in the game. Early on it did not seem like there were many holes in the Rustlers front seven, but FC continued to pound the rock and closed out the game strong. Three separate running backs finished with over 73 yards on the ground, Khalil Wilson lead the bunch with 114 yards and one TD. The Hornets finished with 309 total rushing yards and the Rustlers were held to 22 yards on the ground.
The Hornets (4-1, 2-0) will try to get their injured well in a hurry. The next game is at Riverside City College (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. The Tigers are coming off a blowout win of their own, beating El Camino College last week 31-7.