Bear Cubs win overtime thriller with huge production on offense

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Bear Cubs win overtime thriller with huge production on offense

Attila LS Gero, Sports Co-Editor

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If wide receiver Lucas Triplett and quarterback Jake Simmons were in Madden, they would both be ranked 99 overall after their ridiculous games last week. Simmons and Triplett’s offensive dominance led the way for Santa Rosa Junior College to pick up its first conference victory of the season, defeating (5-2) Chabot  47-40 in overtime.

Santa Rosa’s offense has been on a tear recently. In three straight games, the Bear Cubs have scored 40+ points. The increase in points-per-game can be attributed to quarterback Jake Simmons and kicker Kevin Nguyen starting to play at exceptionally high levels.

Nguyen started the season on a rough note but has since bounced back. Through the first three weeks, he was 0/5 on field goal attempts. He did not make a field goal until Week 4 against College of the Sequoias. Nguyen has been on a hot streak since, going 9/11 on field goal tries in his last four games, including a perfect 5/5 performance against Chabot.

The passing game remains the focal point of SRJC’s offensive strategy. Simmons has taken over as the clear-cut QB1 since Week 3 at Shasta College. On the season, he has a 57 percent completion rate for 1688 passing yards and 17 touchdowns.

“He’s coming along very nicely, his development has been great,” said head coach Lenny Wagner. “Today he played great, he put the ball up there where guys could make catches.”

Simmons’ arm was on fire in his lights out performance against Chabot. He completed 65 percent of his passes for an astronomical 546 passing yards with four touchdowns. He surgically picked apart the Gladiators soft zone and spread the ball to seven different players in what was easily his best game of the season.

“I watched film more this week than any other week, I knew what we were coming into,” Simmons said.

The Bear Cubs have a trio of diversely talented receivers. Triplett is a typical possession receiver and downfield threat. He comes down with every contested catch tossed in his vicinity. Kalei Aukai is a speedy, outside-the-numbers player that handles intermediate routes and kickoffs. Slot receiver Graeden Monahan-Sharpe “does all the dirty work” underneath and over the middle, acting as a safety blanket.

Simmons’ favorite target all season has been Triplett. He leads all Bear Cubs in receiving statistics this season and his playmaking skills are put on display in every game. Triplett has caught 52 passes for 802 yards and 8 touchdowns in seven games.

Triplett had a monster game and was in total sync with Simmons against Chabot. The king of jump balls exploded for 15 catches, 309 receiving yards and three touchdowns for a career day.

The game was chock-full with multiple highlight plays from Triplett. On the third play of the game in the first quarter, Triplett took a post route over the middle 85 yards to the end zone to quickly put the Cubs on the scoreboard.

“Our whole week was to hit a post, our whole game plan was to get a post for a big play,” Triplett said.

Simmons rainbowed a beautiful 34-yard throw to Triplett in the second quarter for another big play connection. He used his 6-foot-1 frame to outjump his defender, highpoint the ball and keep his feet in bounds. Triplett completely Moss’d his defender with the third down highlight catch.

Triplett showed he also has some finesses to his game to go with the power. He laid out on a diving catch next to the sideline on an overthrown pass. His length and concentration allowed him to extend and hold onto the ball barely resting on his fingertips.

Triplett’s final touchdown was the most important one. In the first overtime period, Simmons rolled out to his right and threw a laser to Triplett. He grabbed it on the move and flipped over the defender guarding the end zone in for the score. His third touchdown of the day would seal their victory over Chabot 47-40.

Head coach Lenny Wagner summed up his performance pretty well saying, “Lucas Triplett is pretty dang good.”

While Triplett makes the splashy plays in the spotlight, slot receiver Monahan-Sharpe was the unsung hero keeping offensive drives alive.

“I sometimes think of it as Graeden Monahan does all the dirty work you know in the middle, that’s where the box is that’s where you’re gonna get hit the most,” Simmons said. “He does what he can to get those little dink routes as we call them and he’s got great hands and great routes. I can’t complain about that kid for one second.”

Graeden Monahan-Sharpe has been a very good underneath receiver for the Bear Cubs. Against Chabot, he topped 100 receiving yards for the first time this season and had a career-high 11 receptions.

Simmons also connected with second-year receiver Aukai on a long pass near the sideline. Aukai did a fantastic job fighting through contact to make the catch and keep himself in bounds with a cornerback blanketing him.

Aukai has come on strong in the last few weeks as a consistent catcher and all-purpose playmaker. He has caught a touchdown in every game but two this year and is averaging 20 yards per kick return.

“He’s a really focused young man, whether we’re in the weight room, watching film or at practice,” Simmons said.

The Bear Cubs went into Week 7 averaging 80 rushing yards per game. Against San Mateo in Week 6, Santa Rosa put up one of their worst rushing totals ever, gaining 22 rushing yards on 26 attempts. Running back Jeremiah Watts led Santa Rosa running backs in rushing attempts and yards at the beginning of the season, but recently Cincinnati native Davis Chenault has received a more prominent role in the offense.

“He’s tough, and he does really good holding onto the ball, he gets the tough yards when you need them,” said head coach Lenny Wagner

Strong safety Richie Hardwick is the heart and soul of Santa Rosa’s defense. He is a three-level defender; reliable at blitzing, makes open field tackles and has coverage range to lock down players threatening to score deep. Hardwick seems to be in on every tackle.

“We talk a lot of about doing something that will inspire somebody, showing some kind of work ethic that’s so abnormal, that it’s going to inspire other people, Richie does that all the time,” Wanger said. “ He’s a guy that literally inspires somebody on every single play, so we love him and were happy we got him.”

Hardwick leads the Cubs with 61 tackles (the second closest player to him is linebacker Willie Maples with 43), is third with two sacks, third on the team with 5 tackles-for-loss and has the second most interceptions.

Hardwick single-handedly ended a likely touchdown drive from Chabot with an interception in the first quarter. The Gladiators marched to the red zone with two chunk plays, a 50-yard screen pass and rush to the 2 yard-line, before Hardwick extinguished any chances of bringing the game within one score. The defensive line crowded the Gladiators quarterback, and he chucked an ill-advised throw way over his receivers head and into Hardwick’s awaiting hands.

Hardwick analyzed the game-changing interception like Tony Romo in the booth: “We were playing a certain coverage that allowed us to kill it so he ran a certain route and I reacted to it, and he broke it off, so I was able to stay on top and play with depth,” Hardwick said. “The quarterback, thanks to the pressure from our D-line and linebacker crew, was able to make him throw it off his back foot. So my defense was able to put me in a great position for that.”

Chabot came into the season with the sixth-ranked rushing offense in the CCCSIA. The big guys up front contained their mobile quarterback, holding him to a modest 20 yards on the ground. Rushes up the middle proved to be fruitless and often gained little. Running back Ponove Veimau only found success running outside.

“This our fifth mobile quarterback we’ve had in our last seven games, we make sure to always a have a certain guy spying him and what not,” Hardwick said. “Always bring pressure on him and make sure he’s contained.”

After nearly four full quarters of back-and-forth scoring, Chabot was down 16 points heading into the final five minutes. Akaka led a comeback charge, passing for 172 yards in the fourth quarter.

Akaka went full Johnny Manziel on the first touchdown of their comeback (Texas A&M Heisman version, not the going to a casino in Las Vegas instead of showing up to a meeting with Cleveland training staff version). After surveying the field, he tucked the ball and scrambled away from pressure before pulling up at the line of scrimmage to throw a deep pass. Wide receiver Demetri Munoz got open 4o yards down the field in between the hashes and caught Akaka’s pass in stride en route to the end zone. Munoz was also on the receiving end of the subsequent two-point conversion, making it a one-score game 40-32. Down eight points, the Gladiators inched closer to tying.

All day receiver Da’Juan Johnson got loose on multiple screen passes before getting ankle tackled by SRJC defenders. In crunch time down a single score, he finally broke free for a big gain.

With two minutes remaining, Johnson caught a pass near the line of scrimmage and promptly ran past every SRJC player on defense. His 47 yards touchdown put the Gladiators within two points of tying.

Chabot then busted out the “Philly Special” on their second two-point conversion, a play popularized by the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and more importantly Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns. In Week 5, Feather River College used the famous trick-play to score on SRJC. Chabot’s coaches certainly took note of that on film and used it to their advantage.

Two eight-point plays from Chabot in the final five minutes of regulation had them tied 40-40. Both teams received possessions after that but failed to score and lock up a victory.

The Bears Cubs participated in their second overtime game in three weeks. The offense did their job, an automatic Simmons to Tripplett touchdown on their first possession put the pressure on Chabot to answer, and the SRJC defense to respond.

Two crucial sacks from Soni Misi and Mike Ross on second and third down only gave the Gladiators one play to score. They moved the ball against SRJC’s defense on two long drives in the final seven minutes to tie but couldn’t finish in overtime. Hardwick snuffed out the backside runner and stopped their comeback bid on fourth down.

“That’s just how it is in this conference, it’s never over ‘till that final tick is off the clock,” Wagner said.

The Bear Cubs collected their first conference win of the season and improve to 5-2. Santa Rosa climbs three spots up to No. 12 in the CCCSIA weekly top 20 rankings. Up next, they face another conference opponent, Laney College (5-1), 5 p.m. Oct. 27 at Santa Rosa High School.

 

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