Bear Cubs lose nail-biter against American River College

Running+Back+Adrian+Torres+hurdles+an+American+River+defender+on+a+44-yard+kickoff+return+to+potentially+set+up+the+Bear+Cubs+for+a+game-winning+drive+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+29%2C+2022+in+Santa+Rosa.%0A

Tony Moeckel

Running Back Adrian Torres hurdles an American River defender on a 44-yard kickoff return to potentially set up the Bear Cubs for a game-winning drive on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022 in Santa Rosa.

Christian Vieyra, Sports Editor

The Santa Rosa Junior College football team lost a heartbreaker to American River 16-15 after giving up a last-minute touchdown.

With four minutes left to play, the Bear Cubs possessed a 15-10 lead and had 99 yards of field to run out the clock. Later in the drive, American River’s defense forced SRJC quarterback Santino Chavez to fumble and the Beaver’s held the ball on the 22-yard line.  

American River’s quarterback Kenneth Lueth threw a 10-yard touchdown to tight end Ian Simpson in the very front of the end zone. Simpson would fall back to cross the goal line with a minute and 28 seconds left. The Beavers failed a two-point conversion, but held a one point  lead. 

All Santa Rosa needed was a field goal and Adrian Torres set the Bear Cubs up with a 44-yard kick return.  

The last hope for the Bear Cubs fizzled away after a fourth and five incompletion leading to a turnover on downs. The Beavers would kneel to end the game. “They played hard for 60 minutes and we really feel like we won the game,” Head Coach Lenny Wagner said. “So it’s kind of frustrating to be talking about a loss.” 

The Bear Cubs offense desperately missed their lead wide receiver Isaac Torres who was in concussion protocol from last week’s game against Siskiyous according to Wagner. 

The first half was a defensive slugfest, the game started with punts from both teams, then the Bear Cubs would go on to turn the ball over on downs. “We did pretty good, but if you don’t win the turnover battle you’re not gonna win the game.” Linebacker Dimitri Johnson said about the defense. 

After a scoreless first quarter, American River wide receiver Robert Freeman IV notched the first touchdown of the game on a bubble screen. His blockers sealed the edge and Freeman tightroped the sideline for the 77-yard touchdown.

American River College wide receiver Robert Freeman IV, middle, celebrates with his teammates after scoring the first touchdown of the game against Santa Rosa Junior College on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022 in Santa Rosa. (Nick Vides)

After a 47-yard drive the Bear Cubs failed on a fourth-down conversion shortly before the end of the half. The Beavers blew up a failed reverse toss from running back Rasheed Rankin to wide receiver Lane Thrap. 

The Beavers would drive down the field to start the second half, and kicker Zach Schreiner nailed a 37-yard kick to give American River a 10-0 lead. 

The game had its fair share of chippiness. The Bear Cubs ended up in the red zone because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Beaver defensive back Jullian Davis, after he failed to tackle Rankin, and he immediately got in Rankin’s face after the play.

Behind the backs of his offensive line, Chavez scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak to start the fourth quarter. The point after would be blocked, but the ball bounced into the end zone and tight end Trevor Lee scooped up the ball for a quirky two-point conversion. 

The Bear Cubs would force a four-and-out on the Beavers’ next drive. SRJC shifted the momentum with their most complete drive. A 32-yard pass to wide receiver Cody Davidson put the Bear Cubs in the red zone. On the following play running back Bryan Berry scored on a 18-yard scamper to give the Bear Cubs their first lead of the game at 15-10.

“We woke up and realized that it’s a dogfight,” Rankin said about his offense finally clicking in the second half after an abundance of first half miscues for the offense. 

Linebacker Dillon Tingle holds up a closed to indicate a fourth-down after making a drive-ending tackle on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022 in Santa Rosa.
(Tony Moeckel)

The Bear Cubs will play at Shasta next week at 6 p.m. “I feel very positive,” Johnson said, “Little mistakes are very correctable. If you just minimize mistakes, I feel like our team could do very well in the next two games.”

Wagner is hopeful that the Bear Cubs can finish with a 5-5 record if they win out, “we’ve slugged it out with the best of the teams in our conference and [American River] is probably going to win the conference championship and that could have been us. I think [the team] is gonna be fired up to get those last few games in and hopefully we win both of them and get a chance to play in a bowl game.”

The Bear Cubs now sit in fourth place in the NorCal Conference with a 3-5 overall record and a 1-2 record in conference play. 

Additional reporting by Tony Moeckel