Football: Explosive game comes down to defensive gem

DeMario King (23) comes up with the game-saving interception late in the game to preserve a Falcons win
DeMario King comes up with the game-saving interception late in the game to preserve a Falcons win

In an game that had six lead changes in the second half - and 946 total yards - it took a great defensive play to secure a 45-42 National Division Central Conference opening win for the Cerritos College football team. The Falcons (4-2, 1-0), who snapped a two-game losing streak, defeated Fullerton College for the first time since 2012. The team will travel to San Diego Mesa (4-2, 0-1) next Saturday for a 6:00 p.m. conference game.

Holding a 45-40 lead with time running out, Cerritos was forced to punt deep in their own territory. The ball was snapped over freshman punter Brandon Petruescu's (La Mirada HS) head and by the time he grabbed the ball and tried to punt it away, it was blocked by the Hornets' (2-4, 0-1) Sirrah Smith and recovered at the Falcon 24-yard line with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter.

After a 24-yard pass put that ball at the Cerritos seven-yard line, the defense stepped up and stuffed the Hornets on two short gains after a short pass completion. On third-and-goal from the Falcon three-yard line, freshman linebacker Victor Clanton (JSerra HS) and sophomore defensive tackle Anthony Shipton (Villa Park HS) broke through the Fullerton line and dropped Alfonzo Graham for a one-yard loss, which set up fourth-and-goal from the four-yard line.

The Hornets called timeout and then tried a passing play, but Quinn Commans was intercepted in the end zone by freshman DeMario King (Los Alamitos HS) after a fluttering pass for a touchback. Commans wasn't able to get any zip on his pass, as he was getting wrapped up by Shipton on the play in an attempt to avoid a sack.

Cerritos took over possession at their own four-yard line with 1:44 on the clock, but still needed to run out the clock. After two short yardage plays and a kneeldown, the Falcons were still faced with fourth down with time still on the clock. After taking a delay of game penalty, the decision was made for freshman quarterback TJ McMahon (Servite HS) to run out the clock for the final seven seconds and was able to do so. He ran through the back of the end zone and slid as the clock ran out, with Cerritos taking the safety and the win.

The game had excitement from the first play, as Fullerton's Kashan Griffin took the opening kickoff and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown. But every offensive attack had it's own counterattack, which in turn, was responded by with yet another scoring drive. Neither team punted the ball in the first half, although the Falcons did line up for one on the final play of the first half. But on a fake punt, Petruescu threw a perfect pass to freshman Omari Okeke (Bellflower HS) down the sideline, and he raced 42 yards before getting pushed out of bounds as time expired.

Cerritos took their first lead of the game with 10:48 left in the third quarter, as freshman Hinckley Ropati (Downey HS) scored one of his four touchdowns, with this one coming from four yards out. The big play of the drive was a 39-yard completion to freshman wide receiver Arick McLawyer (Huntington Beach HS) on third-and-four. The Falcons, who had confidence in their offense all night, converted five times on fourth down.

Five straight possessions in the second half led to touchdowns, until the Cerritos defense forced the Hornets to punt. That opened the door for the Falcon offense, as they drove downfield to score and take a 45-34 lead with 11:06 remaining in the game. McMahon, who threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns on the night, connected with Jovohn Tucker (St. John Bosco HS) for 38 yards on a spectacular catch along the sideline. Tucker went up and over David Farmer to pull the ball down and place it at the Fullerton 17-yard line. Three plays later, Ropati scored once again. The 352 passing yards by McMahon were the eighth most in a game in school history.

The game was filled with spectacular offensive highlights, with Ropati rushing for four touchdowns and McMahon completing an amazing 27-of-32 (84%) passes. Sophomore C.J. Parks (Mater Dei HS) , who caught two of the touchdown passes, set a new school record with 13 receptions that went for 165 yards. The old mark of 12 receptions in a game was set by Bain Brick 50 years ago (1969). The four rushing touchdowns was the most by a player since Elijhaa Penny scored four times in 2013.

Not to be lost in the win were some great defensive performances. Both Clanton and Cameron Minor (Mayfair HS) recorded 11 stops, while Shipton and Nate Walker (Cabrillo HS), who was playing his first game all season, registered five each.

Photos courtesy of Jim McCormack