A controversial call helped Saddleback extend a successful last minute scoring drive and snatch victory away from Fullerton at home on Saturday afternoon, prematurely ending the Hornets playoff aspirations.
With less than 30 seconds remaining and ahead 36-32, Fullerton’s playoff fate rested on the shoulders of the defense to make one last stop on fourth-and-goal from the one, but running back Myron Buchanan pushed past the goal line to give the Gauchos the 39-36 victory.
The pivotal call that set up the Gauchos’ final score came just a few plays earlier. Quarterback Johnny Stanton dropped back and heaved a 41-yard pass down the middle of the field to Dominic Collins, who laid out at the Fullerton 20 for a one-handed grab that the officials ruled a catch. However, the ball appeared to clearly hit the turf and bounce back into his possession. The officials convened at the 20 for a few seconds before confirming the call and completely changing the momentum of the game.
FC head coach Tim Byrnes was still shocked after the game, but admitted that they should have played better in the second half to avoid that type of situation.
“That’s a tough one to take, that one– I don’t think he caught that ball,” Byrnes said. “We had a chance to stop them on fourth down at the one, but we couldn’t get it done and they scored, that was that.”
Collins had a different perspective on the catch.
“Oh it was 100 percent a catch, 100 percent,” Collins said.
It was no surprise that the Gauchos went to Collins when they needed a big play. Controversy aside, Collins was virtually unstoppable the entire game, finishing with 11 catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns.
“Our season was on the line and they called my number to make a play, somebody had to do it and I’m glad they depended on me,” Collins said. “I’m so proud of the way our team played today.”
The Hornets dominated the first half and took a 21-10 lead into halftime, but came out flat after the break, which is something that has plagued the team all season.
The Gauchos on the other hand, used the break to regroup and came out fired up. Saddleback grabbed control of the game, outscoring Fullerton 22-3 during an 11-minute stretch that began midway through the third quarter.
After looking completely out of sync for most of the second half, Fullerton mounted a miraculous comeback late in the fourth.
Trailing 32-24 with only 4:15 remaining in the game, Trey Tinsley lofted a perfect pass over the defense to a diving Jarell Moss into the back of the end zone for a 29-yard score. Tinsely and Moss tried to hook up again for the two-point conversion, but the pass grazed off Moss’ fingertips, keeping the score at 32-30.
After the Hornet defense forced a three-and-out punt, Moss once again had his number called. The normal punt returner Asante Wilder went down with an injury. Moss filled in, returning the punt 73 yards down to the Saddleback four-yard-line.
“One of our guys went down and coach told me to go in, so I just tried to step up and make a play,” Moss said.
A couple plays later, Anthony Wood punched it in with a 5-yard touchdown to give the Hornets the lead back.
“I was proud of my guys. We fought back and got the lead, you know they had to come back and score the touchdown with 1:40 left,” Byrnes said.
The Hornets had one last shot with 22 seconds remaining, but a poorly timed double-pass intended for tight end Tim Holt was intercepted, sealing the victory for the Gauchos.
Tinsley threw the ball well, finishing with 322 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
The Gauchos’ go-to man Collins sang praises for his former teammate at El Toro High School, now Hornet quarterback Tinsley.
“Tinsley played lights out, he was tough to defend and just got too good at one point,” Collins said.
His counterpart, Stanton had a big day for the Gauchos, throwing for 342 yards and two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Katavious Taylor led the Hornets in receiving with 5 catches for 99 yards and one touchdown, all of which coming in the first half. Moss took over in the second half, grabbing 4 catches for 67 yards and one touchdown.
The Hornets ground game had a relatively modest showing compared to the past few weeks. Three different backs picked up at least 40 yards. Kentavious “Pop” Thomas stood out with 46 yards on just six carries, including a 22-yard touchdown.
This was the Hornets third tough loss at home, in which a controversial call went the other way late in the game. The loss drops the Hornets to 5-4 overall and 2-3 in conference, which by all measures will probably eliminate them from the playoffs. However, the Hornets are still hopeful that a win next week will warrant a bowl game appearance.
The Hornets will wrap up the season next Saturday when they head south to play Palomar at 1 p.m.