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Vaqueros top Hancock 33-27 in a thriller

Cameron Gamble does a front flip to complete a 14-yard interception return for a TD that put Vaqueros ahead 20-17. (Photo by Dave Loveton)
Cameron Gamble does a front flip to complete a 14-yard interception return for a TD that put Vaqueros ahead 20-17. (Photo by Dave Loveton)

SBCC rallied for 10 points in the final 5:21 on Saturday night to beat Hancock 33-27 in an exciting back-and-forth football battle between the county rivals at Righetti High. It was the second straight win in the 54-game series for the Vaqueros (1-1) and cut their series deficit to 31-22-1.

Elijah King had a career game with 14 receptions for 137 yards and a TD. He came up one catch short of Jason Stone's single-game school record.

King, a 6-3 freshman from Huntington, W.Va., caught nine balls in the second half, capped by a leaping grab between two defenders that produced a 12-yard touchdown and put the Vaqueros up 30-27 with 5:21 to play.

 "Coach had a game plan all week, who to key on and what it takes to win and we just followed it," said King. "I can't thank the guys up front enough for blocking and allowing our quarterback to find the holes in the defense."

 Freshman quarterback Brandon Edwards completed 21-of-36 passes for 164 yards with one touchdown and one interception at Righetti High.

 SBCC's defense came up big with two interceptions that led to 14 points. Khaliel Ahmed Shegog picked off Hancock QB Curry Parham on the game's first series. He returned it 35 yards to the Bulldog 19. Three plays later, Cedric Cooper took a direct snap and went over the left side for a 4-yard TD to make it 7-0.

 Cooper added a 2-yard TD run in the second quarter to put the visitors up 13-7. The PAT try was blocked by Aaron Pringle. That TD was set up by a 38-yard punt return from Tyler Higby that gave the Vaqueros first and goal at the 8.

Former Santa Barbara High star Cheroke Cunningham led the SBCC ground attack with 83 yards on 17 carries with a long of 30 yards. Cooper added 48 yards to help the Vaqueros win the rushing battle, 187-173.

"You know what? This is a more satisfying win than last year," said SBCC coach Craig Moropoulos. "This was a complete win. It wasn't just Jarred Evans running the ball and they fumbled at the end to give us the opportunity to win. This time we were in a dogfight and they knew it. We had drives of 14, 17 and 13 plays and scored on two of those."

After a 14-play drive in the first quarter, Blake Levin hit the left upright on a 47-yard field goal attempt.

Hancock (0-2) narrowly prevailed in total yards, 358-351.

"I'm extremely proud of the way we played the entire game," said Moropoulos. "We allowed a couple big plays on defense but we had some big plays too. We had a couple of big fourth-down conversions. Elijah King did a great job tonight. He's a playmaker.

"I was proud of Brandon Edwards. He made some mistakes but he never lost his composure. We brought Keiston Smith in [at QB in the second quarter] but Brandon came back and I was really proud of him."

Parham completed 12-of-32 passes for 175 yards and three TDs but was also intercepted twice.

Hancock took a 17-13 halftime lead on a 27-yard pass from Parham to Breon Briggs and a 35-yard field goal by Jose Morales just 3.6 seconds before halftime.

The Vaqueros jumped back on top with 9:29 to go in the third quarter when Cameron Gamble picked off a pass at the 14-yard line in the right flat, did a front flip over a defender at the 3 and catapulted into the end zone to put SBCC ahead 20-17.

"It was a fun battle," said Gamble, a sophomore linebacker from Temecula. "You don't understand community college rivalries until you come and play in one.

"The ball just landed in the basket and I jumped into the end zone. I was trying to get over the quarterback because I knew he was going to try and cut me. You have to give a lot of credit to the D-line, they had him scrambling out and made him uncomfortable."

The Bulldogs took a 27-23 advantage on a 60-yard scoring pass from Parham to Tristen Jeffries with 10:04 to play.

The Vaqueros responded with a 13-play, 84-yard drive capped by King's 12-yard TD catch that put them ahead to stay, 30-27. After Hancock threw an incomplete pass on a fourth-and 4 from the SBCC 47 with 2:21 remaining, the Vaqueros drove to the Bulldog 28, thanks to a 20-yard run up the middle by Cunningham.

On fourth-and-12 from the 28, Levin nailed a 45-yard field goal, his second of the game, to boost the lead to 33-27. Levin has field goals of 48 and 45 yards in the first two weeks.

"I didn't want to turn the ball over there," said Moropoulos. "I have a lot of confidence in our kicker. I knew taking it to 6 points would make them score a touchdown. I didn't want to give them a chance to tie it up.

"Hancock is a good football team. I'm very proud of our offensive line. We're young and they did a great job."

Hancock took over on its own 24 with no timeouts left and the Vaquero defense squashed the final drive, buoyed by a sack from Brandon Nicastro.

Nicastro led the defense with 10 tackles (7 solo) and a sack. James Benedix added eight tackles. Bradley Sloan had four tackles and broke up three passes.

The Vaqueros travel to East L.A. on Saturday for a 6 p.m. game.