With 18 seconds left before halftime Oct. 20, the season changed for American River College.
Trailing 14-3 on the road against Fresno City College, the Beavers were reeling from a two-game losing streak and were two quarters from falling out of contention for their No. 1 goal a conference championship.
A two-yard touchdown pass just before halftime against Fresno and four wins later, ARC accomplished its goal with a 52-13 drubbing of visiting Sierra College on Saturday to clinch the Valley Conference title and a berth in the Northern California championship game.
"It's hard to put it into words other than sweet. It's just so sweet," ARC coach Jerry Haflich said.
The Beavers (8-2, 4-1) clinched a Valley Conference title for the first time since 1967 and will face host City College of San Francisco in the NorCal final Nov. 24.
"They deserved to win in every facet today," Sierra coach Jeff Tisdel said. "We've won three in a row coming in, and we finished in second place. I am really proud of our kids, but they deserve the credit."
Sierra (5-5, 3-2), ARC and Fresno City entered Saturday tied for first place. But having beaten Fresno, the Beavers only needed to beat Sierra, and they were in.
ARC earned a rematch with San Francisco, which ended the Beavers' 22-game winning streak with a 52-33 victory at ARC on Sept. 29.
For the last month, the Beavers could have been called the cardiac kids.
After back-to-back losses to San Francisco and San Joaquin Delta, they won the next three games, coming back from second-half double-digit deficits in all three.
Saturday, the heart monitors were put to rest.
ARC led 31-0 at halftime, led by Mike Hicks (265 passing yards, three touchdowns) and Devontae Booker (145 rushing yards, two scores).
"It was big to start off fast because we've been starting off slow," ARC freshman wide receiver Ference Lang said. "We just wanted to start off fast and physical, and that's what we did."
Lang had 176 receiving yards and a 71-yard score.
ARC's defense, meanwhile, posted a first-half shutout for the first time in conference play.
"Two quarters of shutout football that's what we wanted," Beavers sophomore linebacker Samson Faifili said.
Sophomore wide receiver Vince Mayle led Sierra with 97 receiving yards and his state-leading 15th touchdown catch. Mayle verbally committed to Washington State on Thursday.
ARC, in its first season back in a top-tier conference, looks forward to facing San Francisco again with a shot at the state title Dec. 1 at stake.
"We wanted to be in a position to play for this," Haflich said. "And now we have to prove that we belong in this game."