The Saddleback football team got a monkey off their backs on Saturday night with a 37-20 win over Riverside City College in the regional semifinals. Johnny Stanton threw for 440 yards as the Gauchos beat the Tigers for the first time since 2007, advancing to the regional finals.
Saddleback and Riverside met in week two and Riverside was the clear winner, making Saturday night a shot at redemption for the Gauchos. Saddleback delivered, dominating from start to finish.
Saddleback and Riverside traded body blows throughout the first 15 minutes as the defenses dominated. That all changed in the second quarter when Saddleback caught fire, with Stanton leading the charge. The sophomore finished the half with 235 yards passing…173 of which came in the second quarter. Stanton found Dominic Collins on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 5:53 remaining in the half to give Saddleback a 13-0 lead. He later hit Collins for a 25-yard touchdown in the closing minute as the Gauchos opened up a 27-0 lead at the intermission.
In-between the two scores was a 33-yard interception return from Blake Whitlock (pictured), who took a ricochet off a Riverside receiver to the house as Saddleback had all the momentum on their side. It was one of six interceptions on the night for the Gauchos, who had just eight on the season entering the night.
Riverside tried to rally the troops at half, coming on to the field to a team huddle with a speech that was filled with fire and brimstone. Unfortunately, their special teams didn't get the message as Marvin Marshall returned the kickoff 52 yards to the Tiger 45 and eight plays later Aaron Ball kicked a 28-yard field goal for a 30-0 lead.
Stanton finished with 440 yards passing, later adding a third touchdown to Collins on a 17-yard strike with 8:26 remaining in the game. It was Collins' 10th catch of the game as he finished with 197 yards receiving on the night.
Not to be outdone, the Gaucho defense was gritty throughout. Riverside quarterbacks were consistently harassed, finishing 37-of-68 while the Gauchos dominated the time-of-possession (36:17-to-23:43). Saddleback bottled up a Riverside running attack that ranked fifth in the state entering the game with 222-yards-per-game. The Tigers managed just 26 yards on 14 attempts, with the longest run of the game being seven yards. Marcus Meredith and Anthony Hickey led the Saddleback defense with eight tackles apiece as the Gauchos recorded two sacks and five more hurries.
It was the ninth straight win for Saddleback (9-2), which is the most consecutive wins in a season since 2006 when the Gauchos opened the season 11-0 before losing to El Camino in the playoffs. Saddleback will try to run the streak to 10 games next Saturday night when it hosts Long Beach City College in the regional finals. Game time is set for 6:00 PM at the Saddleback Stadium.