SRJC wins home opener with help from defense, special teams and both quarterbacks

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SRJC wins home opener with help from defense, special teams and both quarterbacks

Santa Rosa Junior College defensive back makes a play on the ball.

Santa Rosa Junior College defensive back makes a play on the ball.

Santa Rosa Junior College defensive back makes a play on the ball.

Santa Rosa Junior College defensive back makes a play on the ball.

Attila LS Gero, Sports Co-Editor

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Santa Rosa Junior College’s September 8 home opener went down to the wire as the Bear Cubs defense came in clutch, stopping Butte College on fourth and goal to seal victory 28-23.

The line is the defense’s most robust unit,  though they played inconsistently against Butte. The line penetrated Butte’s backfield and stopped running plays before they could get started, but at other times gave up chunk yardage on big runs.

The Butte College Roadrunners’ starting running back, Jackson Taylor rushed for 197 yards on 28 attempts. Taylor ran with power and balance, hitting the gaps his offensive line created decisively. He scored two touchdowns on the ground but did not score when it counted most.

With 35 seconds remaining in the game on 2nd and goal from the four-yard line, the Bear Cubs stuffed Taylor at the line of scrimmage. On third down, Butte called a bootleg passing play that resulted in an incompletion.

The final play for Butte’s offense was reminiscent of the Seattle Seahawks 2015 Superbowl loss to the New England Patriots. Every football fan knows the play; ball spotted short, close to the goal line. Instead of handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch,  one of the most physical runners in NFL History, the Seahawks opted to throw a pass, ultimately resulting in an interception and a loss.

Like the Seahawks, Butte became entrenched in one of the most high-pressure situations a football team can fall into. Butte’s time, possessions and options were all extremely limited. There were nine seconds left in the game for them to claim victory.

On 4th and goal at the four-yard line, quarterback Brandt Hughes lined up under center with Taylor behind him. He took the snap and dropped back to pass, quickly getting flushed to the left due to pressure from Santa Rosa. Hughes failed to find an open target and chucked the ball blindly into the end zone. The pass fell incomplete, and the Bear Cubs elevated to their first win of the season.

Head coach Lenny Wagner said after the victory, “It was an awesome way to win the game on defense.”

The special teams picked up the slack for the offense when the team couldn’t find a rhythm. The punt coverage team recovered two muffed punts from Butte’s returner, Cam Howes. SRJC recovered another ball on a kickoff when the receiving team failed to corral the short kick.

“We dodged some bullets, and we got some breaks, sometimes you make your breaks. Like they always say, it’s better to be lucky than good sometimes,” said Wagner.

Quarterback Jake Simmons opened up the game on the first drive after Kaylor Sullivan started in the previous game. Simmons and Sullivan traded off playtime until Sullivan left with an injury.

Kaylor led the Bear Cubs on a scoring drive for the first touchdown of the game after coming into the game in relief of Simmons. On 2nd and goal, Sullivan called his own number and dove into the end zone for six. Sullivan finished with 161 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and a 61 percent completion rate to go along with 23 rushing yards and a score on the ground.

Simmons had a handful of commanding drives of his own against Butte’s defense despite throwing three interceptions.

He threw a beautiful 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lucas Triplett in the third quarter to put the Bear Cubs up 28-17. Simmons’ ball placement and timing on the throw couldn’t have been better. He put it directly on Triplett’s outside shoulder where only the big-bodied receiver could reach it. Triplett showed off his playmaking abilities too by diving for the pylon and barely stretching the ball over the plane of the goal line for the score.

Simmons described the play, “We had a fake running back bubble, where I just kinda pumped it, and Triplett did his stock block and go,” he said.” I knew I’d have him right at the corner of the end zone and he just made a great play on the ball and dove for that pylon. It was really great to see.”

At some points, the offense struggled to find a rhythm when the offense was playing hot potato with quarterbacks. The two co-starters are similar enough that the play calling doesn’t need to change drastically.

“Me and Jake are two similar dudes,” Sullivan said. “We both have strong arms, and both can throw on the run. I don’t think it disrupts the offense at all.”

Kaylor Sullivan looked as if he was playing his way into being a full-time starter until he left the game with a high-ankle sprain.

“They say it’s a high ankle sprain, but I feel fine. I feel better,” said Sullivan.

He said he is “definitely” going to be able to play in next week’s game against Shasta College on the road.

The Bear Cubs got hit with an injury bug that affected more than the quarterback.

“We got a lot of dudes banged up; this game was a slugfest. We had a D-lineman break his hand, we had a guy break his finger, we had that accident right at the end,” said Wagner.” “We have to get healthy.”

The Bear Cubs won in exciting fashion for the first home game. The defense played well, and special teams excelled. There was room for improvement on the offensive side, but it’  early in the season.

“At the end of the day, we just have to execute plays. On offense, we fell a little short today. But on defense and special teams, we made big plays. A win’s a win,” said Simmons.

Up Next:

Santa Rosa (1-1) look to go above .500 in their standings against Shasta College (0-2), who lost by a combined score of 67-27 for the first two games of the season, at 6 p.m. September 15 in Redding, Ca.

 

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