The Saddleback football team won its fourth straight game on Saturday night with a 45-30 victory over Grossmont College at Mission Viejo High School. The Gauchos will play Riverside City College for the Southern League title next week.
Saddleback used a combination of big plays on both sides of the ball to turn back a Grossmont program that was coming off of its only win of the season a week earlier. The Gauchos overcame three turnovers and a lopsided advantage in time-of-possession, but the sense in the stadium was that there was never any real threat to their current winning streak.
Saddleback darted out of the gate with two quick touchdowns in taking a 14-0 lead in the opening four minutes of the game. Jerome Johnson had a 1-yard run on the opening drive to get Saddleback out in front. After a quick three-and-out from Grossmont, the Gauchos took over the ball deep in Griffin territory looking for more. Three plays later, Saddleback cashed in when Robbie Patterson found Dejour Smith for a 28-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Things got a bit funky for Saddleback as Grossmont battled back to tie the game at 14-14. The Gauchos had six straight drives where they never moved the ball past their own 40-yard line, the last of which ended with Patterson being sacked and Grossmont recovering the ball in the end zone.
Saddleback then closed out the half with a surge, scoring two more times in the final two minutes to take a 14-point lead into the locker room. The first was a mad scramble by Patterson, who broke containment and received key blocks from Smith and Jonathan Jefferson for a 29-yard touchdown run with 1:35 left on the clock. The last came with 20 seconds left in the half when Patterson found Austin Derrico alone on the left sidelines for a 26-yard score after a complete breakdown in the Griffin secondary.
Saddleback's lead slipped to seven when Grossmont broke off its biggest play of the game midway through the third quarter on a 57-yard touchdown run by Jarius Burnette. The lead then dwindled to four after Grossmont recovered a botched punt in Gaucho territory and turned it into an Ethan Alberton field goal with 2:37 remaining in the quarter.
Saddleback responded with a grinding, nine-play drive that ended in a 4-yard plunge by Johnson. It was Johnson's ninth touchdown of the season and second of the game, coming against his former team who he played for last season.
With the lead sitting at 35-24, Saddleback again coughed up the ball on a muffed punt, giving Grossmont the ball at the Gaucho 28-yard line. The Griffins cashed in when Fabias Shipman broke containment at the line of scrimmage and ran 19-yards to close within 35-30.
From that point forward, Saddleback took control of the game as the Gaucho defense took over. Saddleback forced three consecutive three-and-outs on defense while the offense built the lead back to 45-30. Matthew Freem connected on a 37-yard field goal with 5:21 remaining to give Saddleback a 38-30 lead. Four minutes later the lead expanded to 15 points when Patterson leaned over the goal-line from 1-yard away after the Gaucho defense stifled the Griffins on a fourth down play. The game concluded on the ensuing drive when Austin Godges broke through for two sacks in the final minute.
Patterson finished 27-of-46 for 291 yards and two scores through the air. Jaden Schieberl, Patterson and Johnson combined for 140 yards and four scores on the ground, with Schieberl leading the way with 50 yards on five carries.
Saddleback is now 6-3 overall and 4-0 in National Division Southern League play. The Gauchos have won four straight games and six of their past seven in making a push for the Southern League title. Saddleback will face Riverside City College next Saturday in Riverside for the league title. The game is scheduled to kick off at 6:00 PM.
Saturday's game was also an opportunity for administrators to thanks to all of the sophomores in their final home game of their career. The Gaucho cheer team was also recognized for their efforts.