Nail biting only starts to explain Saturday’s victory for the Fullerton Hornets (2-1) over the Cerritos Falcons (2-1). Between the electric special teams plays, the explosive down-the-field throws, and the competitive score throughout the Hornets really earned their 24-21 win.
The first drive was a bit of an anomaly for the Hornets, but was one they will take any day of the week. After a rough 10-yard drive, the Hornets brought out their punting unit, and it would prove to be one of their most effective offensive units of the game.
Fullerton punter Casey Eyman was unable to field the strong snap over his head but after scrambling backwards and grabbing the ball, he saw nothing but green grass to the left side of the field. He turned on the jets and picked up 18 yards for a first down.
It might not have been the way that special teams coach, Dustin Sober, drew it up for the Hornets, but they’ll take it every single time. Even better, the play energized the Hornets sideline and they drove the remaining field to punch the ball into the end zone on an off-tackle run by running back Eugene Baker in the red zone.
Fullerton’s offense made strides this week in taking care of and moving the football on the ground. The Hornets led in time of possession with almost 35 minutes. The offensive unit also out rushed Cerritos by 124 yards.
“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t doing a whole lot well. Now, we are doing a much better job in a lot of areas and not making so many mental errors,” said LJ Gainey, wide receiver for the Hornets. “We are coming together as a team and finding a rhythm on offense. Everybody is more focused on the success of the team rather than themselves.”
On defense, the Hornets were stout against the run, but unable to combat the deep play-action passes of the Falcons. After Fullerton’s score, the Falcons answered on just such a play. Domonique Young, wide receiver for the Falcons, found himself wide open on a 70-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jimmy Walker.
An exciting first quarter ended at 7-7.
The second quarter began with Eyman giving the Hornets a 3 point lead, as he connected on a 20-yard field goal. After that score, however, the game slowed down. Both teams had drives derailed by penalties.
Linebacker Jakob McCarthy helped his team out with a timely interception on a well executed tip drill. Unfortunately, the Hornets were unable to capitalize with any points, turning the ball over on downs.
The scary moment on that drive, however, came when running back Khalil Wilson fell to the ground on a carry without being touched by a defender. You could hear the gasps, as sometimes the brutal non-contact injuries are often more hampering to a player’s career than contact injuries. Thankfully, Wilson returned in the game and looked great.
Cerritos took advantage of the Hornets’ turnover on downs, and ran the 1-minute drill to perfection. Driving nearly 80 yards with no timeouts to punch in a touchdown bringing the score to 14-10 Falcons at the end of the first half.
The beginning of the second half started with a bang, and in a very similar fashion that the first half did. Fullerton’s secret offensive weapon came to the field, as the punting unit came out on a fourth down play early in the drive.
Rather than depend on Eyman’s ability to create, the Hornets showed some slight-of-hand and ran a fake punt pass with Eyman completing a 6-yard pass to tight end Tim Holt for the drive saving first down.
Once again, the Hornets and quarterback Joey Verhaegh capitalized on their special teams play and scored on a beautifully thrown 37-yard pass to wide receiver Ryan Markush.
Special teams even helped the Hornets when the Falcons were the team with possession. The following drive resulted in a Falcons punt, but Falcons P Corey Bojorquez was only able to get the ball 20 yards to the 50-yard line, giving Fullerton great field position.
After a 10 play drive, four of the plays handing the ball to Wilson, the Hornets were able to sneak the ball into the end zone on a quarterback keeper run over the left guard.
Just when things were seeming to get away from Cerritos, they turned to their deceptive play-action call, and Walker was able to throw a 48-yard pass touchdown to his explosive wide receiver Young once again.
The third quarter ended 24-21 Fullerton.
Going into the final quarter, it was clear that the Hornets defense would be leaned on to come up with some critical stops. Fullerton defensive coordinator, Brian Crooks was happy with his unit’s performance down the stretch, but still sees room for them to get even better.
“My guys are learning how to play hard every play and it is showing. The area where we can still improve is by not making mental mistakes and limiting our penalties,” Crooks said.
The fourth quarter started off with a game changing play for Fullerton. After a 3 play drive for Cerritos, Walker was intercepted by Hornet defensive back Marnez Ogletree, and that would prove to be the final explosive play of the game.
Crooks spoke about his cornerback’s performance.
“Ogletree played well, he really shut down their top receiver in the fourth quarter,” he said.
Gainey also shared his appreciation for his cohorts on the other side of the ball.
“Defense really saved us in the fourth quarter. We had should have been able to score and put the game out of reach. Defense has been playing well all year for us,” he said.
After a few nail-biting drives resulting in a Falcons strip-sack for a fumble, and three turnover-on-downs, the Hornets were able to hold on until the victory formation was called on with less than 1 minute remaining.
The Hornets season continues Satruday, Sep. 27 as Fullerton clashes with the Orange Coast Pirates (0-3) in Costa Mesa, game starts at 7p.m.