Playoff hopes nixed

Leanne Cave

The Bakersfield College Renegades (7-3) will host the Fullerton College Titans (6-4) in the inaugural Golden Empire Bowl at 3 p.m. Saturday. The ‘Gades finished seventh in the final Commission on Athletics Coaches poll but missed the state playoffs because of two major upsets among the five conference champions.

The five Southern California conference and division champions receiving automatic bids to the playoffs have to be ranked in the top eight in the final COA coaches poll when the last regular season games are played. That didn’t happen.

“We wish we would have made the playoffs,” said Jeff Chudy, BC head football coach. “We didn’t play well enough against Los Angeles Pierce or Canyons to get the wins we needed to make the playoffs. But we’re 7-3 and excited to play in the Golden Empire Bowl, and we hope for a good crowd.”

BC (ranked ninth as of Nov. 13) had a chance to make the playoffs when 20th-ranked Riverside knocked off eighth-ranked Fullerton. The Fullerton loss put BC ahead of the Titans in the poll, giving the ‘Gades that final chance at a playoff berth. But the chance slipped away when 10th-ranked Long Beach City (6-4), a team that the ‘Gades beat in their season opener, defeated sixth-ranked Mount San Antonio (8-2) and claimed a share of the Mission Conference American Division.

By beating Mt. SAC, Long Beach won the tiebreaker to take the division automatic bid. The teams ahead of BC in the poll, No. 3 Chaffey (9-1), No. 5 El Camino (8-2) and No. 6 Mt. SAC clinched the final three at-large berths, leaving the ‘Gades out of the playoffs but not out of a bowl game.

“We haven’t been in a bowl game in two years,” said Jan Stuebbe, BC athletic director. “We are real pleased with the progress that the football program has made this season. We will be playing an old rival, Fullerton, on Saturday. It should be a quality day and game and a lot of fun.”

The ‘Gades secured the bowl game with a 24-17 victory over the visiting Ventura Pirates on Nov. 13. It looked as though BC was going to struggle offensively, as it did against its last two opponents, Los Angeles Pierce and College of the Canyons. The Pirates took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Ventura quarterback Jimmie Griffin tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Nick Pierson and kicker Jonathon Johnson added the extra point.

Then the BC offense, which hadn’t produced a touchdown in 10 quarters, assaulted the Pirates with a balanced attack that produced 21 points in the second quarter. On the day, the ‘Gades amassed 399 yards in total yards. Quarterback Thomas Peregrin completed 11 of 28 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns, and tailbacks Rickey Herod and Le’Andre Matthews combined for 168 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

“It was one of our better team efforts since the Citrus game,” Chudy said. “It’s the best we’ve blocked to protect the quarterback. Overall, we played with a lot of enthusiasm and by far with the best energy since the Citrus game.”

The first score came on a 38-yard bomb from Peregrin to receiver Jeremy Miller. The touchdown catch by Miller was especially sweet for the

‘Gades because the freshman made an awesome catch over the Ventura defender for the score and it was his first catch in his first game of the season. Bryan Sullivan kicked the extra point and the score was tied 7-7.

“Jeremy Miller hadn’t played a game this season,” Chudy said.

“He comes in, steps up to the plate and makes a great catch to put points on the board.”

The next scoring opportunity was set up by the BC defense as defensive back Brian Cooper intercepted a Jimmie Griffin pass and returned deep into Pirates territory.

“I watched the films and the routes they run,” Cooper said. “The quarterback didn’t disguise the plays, I was reading his eyes and he overthrew the receiver, and I stepped up and got the pick.”

The interception was a big help to the offense as it didn’t take long for Matthews to run to the end zone from 4 yards out, Sullivan’s extra point was good, and the ‘Gades had their first lead in seven quarters of football, 14-7.

Taking the lead was one of the things that seemed to motivate the ‘Gades offensively as well as defensively. But another motivational factor was the stellar play of freshman receiver Tajiddin Smith. Smith caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Peregrin to help put the ‘Gades up 21-7, caught six passes total for 118 yards and made key blocks that helped get the offense down the field and fire up the team as a whole.

“Tajiddin made a great block down the sideline on a defender that fired everybody up,” Chudy said. “He also made catches and blocks that kept the chains moving.”

Moving the chains was also important for the offense to do because the defense had spent much of the last 10 quarters on the field.

“We felt like we needed to move the ball and give the defense a rest,” Smith said. “We owed it to the defense to put at least 14 to 16 points on the board in the second quarter.”

The only score in the third quarter was a 35-yard field goal by Ventura kicker Johnson, to bring the Pirates within 21-10.

The ‘Gades mounted a drive that elapsed the rest of the third quarter before settling for a 30-yard field goal by Sullivan early in the fourth to make the score 24-10.

It looked as though the game was well in hand for BC, but after the field goal things got a little testy for the ‘Gades.

This was evident by the way Ventura marched down the field at will and scored on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Griffin to receiver Chris Brewer. The kick was good by Johnson, and the Pirates trailed 24-17 with 4:48 remaining.

On the ensuing kickoff the Pirates, attempted an onside kick, but the attempt was to no avail for Ventura as Anthony Stewart of BC recovered at the Ventura 48-yard line.

After a three-and-out series by the BC offense, the Pirates had enough time (3:06) to come back and tie the score. But the BC defense once again passed the final test.

On first down, Kenneth Atkins sacked Griffin; on second down, incomplete pass; on third down, incomplete pass; fourth down…. Ventura punts.

“Everybody did everything right when it counted,” Cooper said. “Collectively we played four quarters like we know how to do. We’ve been practicing hard to get it right.”

The game in which little went right for the ‘Gades was on Nov. 6, against College of the Canyons at Memorial Stadium. Canyons, unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in the Southern California coaches poll and No. 3 in the state, shut out BC 16-0.

The Cougars wasted little time in establishing why they are unbeaten and highly ranked. It took less than 30 seconds to score when tight end Jason Lance caught a lateral from quarterback Cory Miles and tossed a beautifully executed 69-yard halfback pass to receiver Billy Omahen. Jason Tompkins added the extra point, and Canyons led 7-0.

From that point on it was a defensive struggle as the only points allowed were three Tompkins field goals set up by BC fumbles.

The Cougars took a 13-0 lead in the second quarter, when Tompkins kicked two of the three field goals from 45 and 36 yards out.

If there was a bright spot for the ‘Gades, it was the play of a tough determined defense that prevented one of the best teams in the state from running up the score.

A Canyons offense that had scored more than 30 points against most of its opponents this season, managed only three more points, a 36-yard field goal by Tompkins in the fourth quarter making the final score 16-0.

The ‘Gades will need another valiant effort Saturday when they face a talented and physical team, the Fullerton Titans. The Titans will bring two talented tailbacks that will give the ‘Gade defense all they can handle. Tickets are $10 for adults and $3 for children.

“Next to Canyons, Fullerton is the best team we will face,” Chudy said. “We’re excited to play in the Golden Empire Bowl and play against Fullerton. We’re proud of our sophomores in the way they have showed leadership, work ethic and made good decisions in key situations this season to get us to this point.”