Vaqueros come up short against San Bernardino in season opener

City College’s football opener went down to the wire on Saturday against San Bernardino Valley College at La Playa Stadium.

Down by eight points with 2:09 to go, freshman quarterback Brandon Edwards guided the team from the 5-yard line to the San Bernardino 37. A roughing the passer penalty with no time remaining gave him one last play to reach the end zone. He threw to wide receiver Mason Rutherford but the ball was out of the end zone, and the Vaqueros were left on the short end of an 18-10 decision before 2,174 fans.

It was a gallant effort by the Vaqueros, who suffered a big blow when they fumbled the ball at the San Bernardino 8 after Tyler Higby returned a kickoff 86 yards. San Bernardino had just scored its second touchdown of the game to take a 15-3 advantage.

Lonnie Johnson recovered for the Wolverines.

“He’s a wide receiver but he’s on our kickoff team because of his speed and he’s a good football player,” said San Bernardino coach John Shipp. “You saw the effort from our guys, they didn’t give up.”

The Wolverines capitalized on the fumble, marching down the field and scoring on a 25-yard field goal by Cody Madsen to go ahead 18-3 with 3:45 remaining in the fourth quarter.

But SBCC didn’t let down, responding with a 62-yard drive. With Edwards getting good protection from his offensive line, he hit Cheroke Cunningham in the flat and the former Santa Barbara High star took off for a 24-yard gain. Rutherford then made a pair of big plays. He caught a pass for 10 yards and ran a reverse for 19 to give the Vaqueros a first-and-goal at the 9. Elijah King caught an Edwards pass and was knocked out at the 1.

On second-and-goal, Edwards tripped as he ran into the line and fumbled. Lineman Ivan Malinarich alertly pounced on the ball in the end zone to score the team’s first touchdown of the season.

“I was concerned about our offensive line going in because I knew (San Bernardino) was going to be big,” SBCC coach Craig Moropoulos said. “We didn’t know anything about them. We didn’t see them on film, it’s a new staff, and we didn’t know what they were going to run. That was a real challenge and I thought our guys hung in there and stayed tough. To come back at the end, lesser teams would have given up a long time ago.”

SBCC Football - Jacob Girgle

SBCC’s Jacob Girgle makes a tackle on San Bernardino Valley wide receiver Isaiah Gibbs

After the SBCC  touchdown, San Bernardino came back behind the solid play of quarterback Ricardo Johnson III. He converted on three third-down plays and moved the team to the SBCC 25. But on a third-and-13, Johnson was sacked by SBCC defensive end Ezra Taylor. It was his second sack and third tackle for a loss.

“He’s athletic, quick and has a high motor,” Moropoulos said of Taylor.

The Wolverines set up for a field goal, but a penalty pushed the ball back to the 34 and they decided to punt. There was a bad snap but Madsen was able to chase it down and get the kick away with 2:09 left.

Johnson, a freshman from Minnesota, had an impressive college debut for San Bernardino. He completed 15 of 27 passes for 248 yards, with one interception.

Shipp was pleased with his quarterback’s performance.

“Our offense is pretty demanding for him to make certain reads. But you know what? The kid gave everything he had and bailed us out of some poor plays with some good plays that he made.”

San Bernardino racked up 502 total yards. The Vaqueros gained 256.

Johnson got the Wolverines going on their first possession, taking them to the Santa Barbara 26. The Vaqueros’ defense stopped the drive when defensive back Zach Arnell intercepted a pass.

Sage Ritchie rumbled 20 yards on SBCC’s first play, but the Vaqueros sputtered after that, and Edwards was picked off by Angel Delgado.

Edwards completed 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards, with two interceptions. King had seven catches for 44 yards and Rutherford caught six balls for 58 yards.

King and Rutherford caught passes on a first-quarter drive that led to SBCC’s first points of the season, a 48-yard field goal by Blake Levin.

The Vaquero defense contained San Bernardino with some clutch plays. Parker Rozenberg had a fumble recovery in the second quarter. The San Marcos alum had a solid college debut with a team-high 10 tackles, including three solo tackles.

“I was impressed with our defense and how hard they played,” Moropoulos said. “We just have to learn not to kill ourselves with penalties.”

San Bernardino took a 6-3 lead on a 1-yard run by Johnson. The Wolverines botched the PAT with a bad snap.

San Bernardino running backs Alijah Watson and Kendrick Dorn had productive days (Watson had 112 yards on 15 carries and Dorn gained 111 on 15), but the Vaquero defense kept coming up with big plays to keep them out of the end zone.  The defense held the Wolverines to another field in the third quarter. Madsen hit a 45-yarder with 43 seconds left in the quarter.

In the end, Moropoulos said the Vaqueros just ran out of time.