In one year, Shasta College’s football team went from the cellar in the prestigious NorCal Conference to contending for the conference title.
While the Knights are taking the necessary steps to get back to prominence, their inability to recover from costly mistakes is holding them back from being an upper echelon team just yet.
The 15th ranked Shasta College football team turned the ball over four times and No. 5 American River scored 24 unanswered points to close out the game as the Knights fell 44-27 Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in the Sierra Pacific Industries College Game of the Week.
Shasta (7-2, 2-2 NorCal) scored on the opening drive of the third quarter, capitalizing on an ARC fumble coming out of half. But ARC (7-2, 4-0 NorCal) responded with a touchdown drive and intercepted Hokulani Wickard in the red zone. The Beavers turned that takeaway into a four-play scoring drive capped by Jeremiah Johnson finding pay dirt on a 27-yard run to convert fourth-and-2.
The Knights didn’t have an answer from that point on.
“I’m proud of where the program as headed but disappointed right now because it’s one thing to not compete – we did that,” said Shasta College head coach Bryon Hamilton. “It’s another thing to have a lead in the third quarter against a national caliber team and not finish the deal and not play your best football down the stretch. That’s something we have to rectify.”
American River scored three touchdowns off Shasta’s four turnovers, the first coming on the game’s opening play. Shasta fumbled the hand-off exchange on the first play from scrimmage and ARC scored on a 22-yard sweep by Johnson the following play for a 7-0 lead 12 seconds in.
“That’s just uncharacteristic on both sides of the ball for us,” Hamilton said.
Shasta matched the score before the end of the quarter when Wickard connected with Kentrell Petite for a 7-yard score in the corner of the end zone. After an ARC three-and-out, Wickard scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak for a 14-7 advantage.
But the Beavers jumped back ahead by neutralizing the vaunted Knights pass-rush as quarterback Marco Baldacchino was efficient through the air on the next two drives. Baldacchino found Austin Jarrard for an 11-yard touchdown and Markel Quinney for a 13-yard score to take a 20-14 lead late in the first half.
Wickard was intercepted just before half but it started an rare sequence as ARC fumbled on the interception return and recovered it in the end zone for a Shasta safety with 1 second left in the second quarter. The Beavers went for an onside kick on the punt but was penalized for illegal touching, giving Shasta one untimed down. The 15-yard penalty set the Knights up in Beaver territory and Matthew Ramirez nailed a 35-yard field goal for a five-point swing to go into half with Shasta trailing 20-19.
ARC opened the half the same way Shasta started the game — a fumble in the backfield caused and recovered by Rashard Budd to set Shasta up in plus-territory. A 31-yard pass from Wickard to James Lee put the Knights at the 7 and Matt McCree stumbled into the end zone two plays later for a 1-yard score.
But the Beavers, ranked fifth in the state and No. 12 in the nation by JCGridiron.com, had more fight left. Julia Leslie finished a four-play drive with a 1-yard score. Shasta marched with six straight runs to reach the red zone. Wickard’s third down pass was tipped into the hands of Jamie Cousey, who took it 58 yards to flip the field. Shasta appeared to stop Johnson on fourth down but he slipped the tackle and the second effort led to a 27-yard touchdown to go ahead 34-27, a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“Our D-line isn’t happy with how we played, we didn’t get the pressure we wanted,” said Shasta sophomore defensive end Cole Parker.
Shasta punted on its ensuing drive and ARC drove 69 yards for a score with Baldacchino finding Naequan Parker for a 24-yard touchdown.
Wickard was intercepted the following drive and ARC put the finishing touches on the game with a 20-yard field goal to go up three scores with 6:06 remaining. The Beavers ran eight plays inside the Shasta 10 but settled for a field goal.
Wickard threw for 123 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions on 14-of-31 passing as the Knights stuck to their strength of running the ball with the backfield duo of Tyler Boston (17 carries, 96 yards) and McCree (14 carries, 62 yards). But the four turnovers – now 10 turnovers in the two losses on the year – were too much to overcome.
“For whatever reason our passing game wasn’t what it needed to be in a championship game,” Hamilton said.
American River captured the NorCal Conference title while Shasta travels to rival Butte College in the regular season finale next week. It won’t be the final game of 2019 as the Knights have earned a bowl game berth, making it their fifth bowl game in the past six seasons – tying a record stretch for the program since reaching five straight from 1954-58.
Lee led the Knights in receiving with five catches for 59 yards while Petite had five catches for 39 yards and a score.
Joe Merkel had a team-high 11 tackles and Torren Calhoun-Ray had the Knights’ lone sack.
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