Top 10 Battle: No. 6 SRJC football beats No. 10 Fresno

Sophomore+defensive+back+Justin+Tauaefa+extends+his+body+and+grabs+one+of+the+five+interceptions+by+the+Bear+Cubs%27+defense+on+Sept.10.

Albert Gregory

Sophomore defensive back Justin Tauaefa extends his body and grabs one of the five interceptions by the Bear Cubs' defense on Sept.10.

Albert Gregory, Sports Editor

Santa Rosa Junior College football team’s defense proved once again to be the key to victory as the Bear Cubs held on for a 17-13 win over Fresno City College Sept. 10 at Ratcliffe Stadium in Fresno, Calif.

The Bear Cub’s offensive struggles continued as they gained only 145 total yards on offense, but once again the defense was solid throughout the game.

“It was ugly, but a win is a win,” said head coach Lenny Wagner after the game. “We had a lot of penalties, but they all played with a lot of heart.”

The defense was out on the field for most of the game, with Fresno’s time of possession at almost 38 minutes, nearly doubling SRJC’s 22 minutes with the ball.

“You have to love the way our defense and special teams played,” Wagner said.

SRJC’s defense nabbed five interceptions, one of them by sophomore defensive back Kadeem Hemphill on a third-and-goal for Fresno on SRJC’s 3-yard line to save a potential game-winning touchdown.

“I think at the beginning of the game I was real slow and I didn’t come out with a lot of energy,” Hemphill said. “I had to just go out and muscle it and knowing that [interception] was the game on the line.”

The standout player of the game was sophomore linebacker Henry Stelzner who led the team with 12 tackles, one sack and a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was SRJC’s first score of the day and gave it the lead in the final minutes of the first half.

“I just wanted to do my job in the system,” Stelzner said. “We all played together and just balled and I’m excited for what’s next.”

Although scoring was slow, the offense managed the game well and did not force anything or give Fresno any chances to capitalize.

“We all played together,” Stelzner said. “Everyone did their own job, and when you all do your job like that the only thing that can happen is success.”

SRJC came into this season ranked No. 12 in California in Junior College Athletic Bureau’s statewide polls.

Many players had high hopes for the team coming into this season, especially because a large group of them had redshirted their first year together and have now been playing together for three years. This is their last year to play together as a group.

“Hard hitting, a lot of touchdowns, a lot of wins,” said sophomore tight end Dominic Carasco when asked about expectation for the upcoming season. “We trained pretty hard this season, even harder than last season. We have a lot of returners, a lot of sophomores.”

The team felt as long as itcould play smart, smash mouth football, it could have a lot of success.

“[The] strongest aspect of the team is [our] knowledge of the playbook,” said sophomore quarterback Mitch Hood. “The new guys are the quickest I’ve ever seen pick up the playbook and we also have guys who have been studying the same playbook for three years.”

In the Bear Cubs’ first game of the season they faced off against Butte College Sept. 3 at Bailey Field.
Similar to its most recent win, when the team played Butte, the Bear Cubs defense won the game.

“The team played well, a little sloppy at times but it [was] the first week of the season,” said first-year wide receiver Riley Amundson. “But overall a great team win.”

The team’s offense was hardly competitive, but thanks to some key plays on defense and special teams the Bear Cubs were able to escape with a 17-7 win.

“Our defense played phenomenal, and our running backs really drove the ball,” Hood said. “As far as our passing attack that one was all on me.”

The game was sealed with a scoop-and-score for sophomore linebacker Presley Piliati. Before the turnover, the game was a close defensive battle. The score stayed locked at 10-7 through three quarters.

“One of our goals was to score on defense and we did that,” Wagner said. “Another goal we had was to win the turnover battle and I think we lost that one, but we were still able to come out with a win.”

SRJC hosts No. 22 San Joaquin Delta College next at home on Alumni Spirit Night. All alumni are invited to reconnect with classmates and enjoy a walking tour, shopping and activities. Attendees will meet at 3 p.m. at the bookstore, then head to Bailey Field for a bbq at 4 p.m. followed by the game at 5 p.m.

“We have come out and play even harder,” Stelzner said. “Enjoy this one for like 10 minutes, get on the bus, sleep it up, watch film and get ready for next week.”

SRJC faces off against San Joaquin Delta at 5 p.m. Sept. 17 at Bailey Field.