All phases all season sums up the record-setting year by the SBCC football team.
Like they did during a 9-1 regular campaign, the Vaqueros continued to execute in all phases of the game during Saturday’s Beach Bowl against College of the Desert and scored an impressive 44-23 victory on a gorgeous fall afternoon at La Playa Stadium.
On offense, the Vaqueros’ rolled up 327 yards rushing and were efficient passing the ball. The defense held Desert to 61 yards on the ground and put constant pressure on its quarterback. On special teams, long kickoff and punt returns gave the offense short fields to work with, and they scored a touchdown a fumbled punt.
“It’s just reminiscent of the whole season because we’ve done that every game just about, play all three phases,” said coach Craig Moropoulos. “That’s something that we emphasize and that’s something that we’ve done, and that’s why we’re 10-1.”
The victory was history making as it marked the first 10-win season for the program and first 10-game winning streak.
It also was the first bowl win for Moropoulos in his 16 years at the helm, and only the second bowl victory in SBCC history. The first win was in 1982
Running back Brandon Smith scored three touchdowns to give him a school-record 16 in a season, breaking the previous mark of 15 set in 1994 by Chad Marsalak.
Smith led a bruising running attack, piling up 200 yards on 25 carries to finish the season with 1,231 yards. That left him four yards shy of the single-season record set by Jerry Hughes in 1970.
Smith was named the game’s MVP.
“It’s very nice, but a lot of credit goes to my offensive line and the rest of the team,” said Smith
The line opened “massive holes” for Smith to do his thing. He followed the block of Donovan Davis and broke off a 42-yard scoring run on SBCC’s first possession of the second half for a 24-10 lead. In the fourth quarter, he bolted up the middle for a 47-yard score to make it 31-10.
Moropoulos also praised the O-line.
“I’ll tell you what, they get recognition from me from the start of camp to now,” he said. “I tell the running backs and receivers and quarterbacks, you don’t have any success without the offensive line. And our offensive line coach Isaac McClain does a great job with them. That’s another reason we’re successful because running the football ate up a lot of clock.”
Mekhi Norfleet got the run game going, pounding the ball on the Vaqueros’ first possession after Desert’s Chris Duarte kicked a 40-yard field goal and Kayden Chan followed with a 26-yard kickoff return to the Desert 47. Norfleet rushed three times for 22 yards on the drive and finished it with a 2-yard touchdown run. Joe Bowman kicked the first of his five PATs for a 7-3 lead.
The SBCC defense had its hands full with mobile Desert quarterback Cesar Vela.
“They make you nervous when they’re on offense because they’re keeping things alive and throwing the ball down field,” Moropoulos said of Vela and the Roadrunners. “The defense did a really good job.”
Amir Brown led a strong defensive performance with 11 tackles, including four solos and a sack. He was named the Defensive MVP.
“That was the best quarterback we played against, but best man wins,” said Brown. “Once the light came on, we showed up and showed out.”
“Amir Brown is super athletic,” said Moropoulos. “For a guy that’s not real big, he’s fast and he just disrupts offenses. He just kept coming through and forcing that quarterback out of (the pocket) and forcing him into throws he maybe didn’t want to make or had to make sooner than he wanted.”
His sack of Vela on third and 6 from the Desert 35 forced the Roadrunners to punt and Chan returned the ball 28 yards to the SBCC 48.
Alex Johnson led the Vaqueros to the Desert 11 before the drive stalled. Bowman came in and kicked a 28-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead at 14:23 of the second quarter.
Another good punt return by Chan set up SBCC with another short field. The Vaqueros went 28 yards in five running plays, with Smith following Anthony Hasting into the end zone on a 3-yard run for a 17-3 lead at 4:27 of the second quarter.
With time running out in the quarter, Vela completed a pair of passes to Kevin Johnson on a 66-yard drive. On third and goal from the 1, he scrambled and found running back Arieon Capler running across the end zone for a touchdown with two seconds left. Duarte’s PAT cut the SBCC lead to 17-10 at halftime.
Smith scored on a 42-yard run on the Vaqueros’ first possession of the third quarter to make it 24-10 at the 9:13 mark.
The SBCC defense went back to work as Brown forced an intentional grounding penalty against Vela and Koby Sarna sacked the Desert quarterback for a 12-yard loss on fourth and 8 at the SBCC 34.
The Vaqueros made it 31-10 early in the fourth quarter on Smith’s 47-yard touchdown run.
But Vela brought Desert (8-3) right back with pass completions of 11 and 13 yards to Capler and a 16-yarder to Kevin Johnson. From the SBCC 15, Capler ran off left tackle, made a nice cut inside and scored, cutting the deficit to 31-17 with 10:51 left.
The Roadrunners’ defense, however, couldn’t slow the champions of the American Pacific League. Alex Johnson mixed in a pair of passes to Jackson Meehan and BJ Phillips on a 58-yard drive, and ran 4 yards for a touchdown to make it 38-17.
Johnson completed 7 of 13 passes for 73 yards and had one pass picked off.
Vela hit Kevin Johnson for an 8-yard score, but Desert missed the PAT due to a bad snap, leaving the Roadrunners down, 38-23 with 2:41 to go.
Vela, the game’s Offensive MVP, was 25 of 42 for 252 yards and two scores. He also ran for 27 yards.
SBCC finished off the game and its winningest season with a special teams’ touchdown. Xavier Gutierrez recovered a fumbled punt return at the 4 and ran it for the score.
“We’ve been striving for this all year,” said Smith of having a winning season, winning a league title and playing in a bowl game. “We practiced every day, but I didn’t expect it to be like this, you know? This is a moment. This is something I can’t forget. Ten games straight, that’s pretty impressive. I’ve never done that before in my football career.”
SBCC’S HISTORY-MAKING SEASON
• Most wins (10)
• Highest win percentage (.909)
• Consecutive wins (10)
• Points in a season (499)
• Scoring average (45.4)
• Single-game points (86 vs. LA Southwest on Sept. 24)
• Single-game rushing yards (260, Brandon Smith at Glendale on Oct. 1)
• Team rushing touchdowns (42)
• Rushing touchdowns (16, Brandon Smith)
• 200-yard rushing games (2, Brandon Smith)
• Program’s 300th win (45-7 at Orange Coast on Sept. 10)
• 2nd-most single-season rushing yards (1231, Brandon Smith)
• 3rd-most single-game team rushing yards (356 at Glendale)
• 2nd Bowl Game win, 1st since 1982
• 12th Conference Championship, 1st since 1991