In a comeback fashion, the Fullerton Hornets beat Saddleback College by a score of 33-21 in the CCCAA SoCal regional playoff game on Nov. 18.
At one point trailing 15-0, the Hornets rallied back for the playoff victory to keep their season and quest to repeat as national champions both alive.
“They had a great game plan. We ended up pulling it off at the end because our defense played great in the second half,” stated head-coach Tim Byrnes.
With freshman quarterback Ladarius Skelton under center, the Hornet offense was stalled by the Gaucho defense to begin the game. After being unable to convert a first down with their first possesion, Fullerton was forced to punt and send their defense on the field.
The Gauchos offense effectively moved the ball down the field against the Hornets defense. Behind freshman quarterback Max Gilliam, the Guachos moved 70-yards down the field on a drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by Gilliam.
Down early, the Hornets looked for their offense to get rolling but their struggles continued and were forced to punt again.
“We just got away from ourselves and got away from what we do,” said freshman wide receiver and game MVP Keydran Wilson.
On the other side of the ball, the Gauchos offense continued to successfully move down the field.
Gilliam lead his offense down the field through the air and on the ground. A 39-yard run by Gilliam put the Guachos in a scoring opportunity as the first quarter came to an end. To open up the second quarter, Gilliam found sophomore wide receiver Chris Spiering for a 20-yard touchdown pass to further their lead.
Down 15-0, Fullerton faced not only its biggest deficit of the game, but their biggest deficit of the season.
“We played against a good football team,” added Byrnes, “they were 8-2 for a reason and we struggle with them.”
Needing a spark on offense, sophomore quarterback Johnny Feauto entered the game.
On his first pass attempt, the sophomore connected with Wilson on a 39-yard pass to put them in Saddleback territory. Two plays later, sophomore running back Gerald Hulett rushed for a gain of 17-yards that set up Feauto for a touchdown pass to Wilson one play later.
“I just did what my coaches told me to do and I just made the best of my moment when it came,” said Wilson.
After giving up the touchdown, the Gauchos answered back when Gilliam found Spiering again for their second touchdown connection of the day.
Following the score, Fullerton began to find their stride. On the next two offensive possessions, Feauto and Skelton each found the end zone and got their team back into the game.
As the first half came to a close, Fullerton had one more opportunity to score after a 30-yard rush from Skelton put them in field goal range.
Sophomore kicker Antonio Estrada drilled his 45-yard kick and gave Fullerton a 23-21 lead heading into halftime.
Coming back from halftime the Hornets were only able to find the end zone once in the second half, but Fullerton’s defense slowed down the Saddleback offense.
Led by the game’s defensive MVP Montre Bonner, the Hornet’s defense shut out the Guachos in the second half and forced three turnovers. Two turnovers coming in the form of interceptions by sophomore defensive back Kameron Powell and the final one being the game sealing fumble recovery by Bonner, carried the Hornets to victory.
“We just got locked back in like the other games. We reminded ourselves that we’re the much better team, we’re way better coached and all we had to do is go out there and play the game,” stated Bonner.
The championship hopes continue to live on for the Hornets after coming back against Saddleback College. As they await for their next opponent to be determined their focus shifts to next week.
“We’re just gonna go rest and enjoy it. We’ll plan everything out tomorrow after we find out who we’re playing and we’ll be ready for them,” added Byrnes.
Fullerton’s next playoff opponent will be the winner between Riverside Community College and Ventura College.