A tired but resilient Lancers defense had remained on the field for a little over seven minutes. On the other side of the ball, Mt. San Jacinto Eagles were hopeful that they could score the equalizer, down 21-14 in the third quarter. The Lancers faced another fourth down after an offsides penalty ruined a great fourth down stop by Lucio Rodriguez and the rest of the defense.
During the past three stops in the red zone, the Eagles came out in pistol formation, but the conference title was at stake. This time they came out with two running backs flanking their deep throwing and speedy quarterback, Robert Coleman. At the snap of the football, Coleman followed his offensive line and tail back to his left, only to be outflanked by a trio of Lancers – Ronald Rodrigues, Lucio Rodriguez, and Osvaldo Raigosa. Coleman tried turning back up field, but it was too late. A cavalry of Lancers swarmed him into a loss on downs.
The stop was the most pivotal play of the game and the Eagles never recovered. PCC defeated Mt. San Jacinto Eagles 28-26. The result of the victory helped the Lancers win a share of the American Mountain conference title, their first in the past 20 years. First year head coach Robert Tucker spoke about the meaning of the victory for the PCC football program.
“It meant a lot to a lot of people,” Tucker said. “I think the guys in there are understanding that the consistency, belief will pay off for them down the road. I think it gave them a glimpse of that whether it’s in football or in life, that if you truly commit to something it will work out well for them. I was really proud of them. I’ve been proud of them.”
It was a moral victory for the Lancers defense, but it was early in the third quarter. The ensuing drive, the Eagles had great field position and battered a tired defense around for a 20-yard touchdown run, practically untouched. Subsequently, Michelangelo Loretto snuck in and beat down the extra point, leaving the score at 21-20 Lancers.
Coach Tucker has not been risk averse all season. The Lancers found themselves facing a 39-yard field goal attempt on fourth down, but Tucker decided to leave his offense on the field. Kade Wentz found Jeremiah Hartfield on a crossing route and turned up field to the 5-yard line. The tandem found each other again at the start of the fourth quarter on the rollout touchdown pass. Wentz had his third touchdown and 183 yards passing for the night, and the Lancers increased their lead, 28-20.
As the game inched closer to the end, things got chippy on the field. Kaydon Spens grabbed Cayden Chambers mouth piece and attempted to put it back into his mouth while the two were walking back to respective huddles after the play. Chambers retaliated by shoving Spens. Luckily for the Lancers, no flag was thrown and the play was mainly unseen.
“It was just the competitiveness of the game, but we were jawing at each other for a bit,” Spens said. “I yanked his mouthpiece a little bit. It was just something to try and get him off his game. In a way it sort of did because he was really worried about that the whole time. It kept coming out the rest of the game. I probably shouldn’t have done it because I should have kept my composure, but it was something that threw him off his game a little bit.”
A few possessions laters, the Eagles were outside the Lancers red zone, fighting to stay in the ball game. Co-quarterback of the Eagles, Devon Freedland, dropped back in shotgun formation. In a very clean pocket, launched the ball downfield to a covered receiver to Taliq Brown who had 8 receptions and 118 yards receiving.
The Eagles stepped on the field, looking to tie the ball game with a 2-point conversion. This would be the Eagles last opportunity to force the game into overtime with a little over 5 minutes left in the game. Freedland stayed on the field, back in shotgun formation with trips right and a running back flanked to his right. Freedland rolled out to the far side of the field to a wide open Brown at the top corner of the end zone. It appeared that Brown caught the football when he fell into the fetal position, but the referee signaled no good. Brown had to be carried off by his teammates, knowing that the play cost them the game and the title. The score remained 28-26 Lancers.
The Lancers had managed to move the football down field and bring the clock down to 1:52. Kade Wentz dropped back on a 3rd down and 11 and delivered a strike to a wide open Jeremiah Hartfield, who would keep the drive alive and the clock ticking. Hartfield had over 68 receiving yards on the night. He stiff-armed the first defender to the turf, ran around a second defender, juked a third defender, and started running back to the other side of the field. The play almost looked like a circus act with Hartfield clowning the Eagles defenders. He was finally knocked down at the Eagles 1-yard line and left 1:36 seconds on the clock.
“It meant a lot not only for this team, but I feel like moving forward that win is going to sit with us,” Wentz said. “It’s a culture change within this program. Coach Tucker coming in. It just shows how we’re creating a winning culture within this program. That being our first conference championship in the past 20 years, that just shows that we’re really changing the narrative within this program.”
The Lancers, now 7-2 will face Grossmont this Saturday at Robinson Stadium 6:00 p.m. Earlier this year, Wentz threw three interceptions in a losing effort at Grossmont. This time they’ll come in with a three game win streak for a play-in game that could lead to a bowl game. In addition to that, PCC football is now ranked #22 in the state.
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