Despite a late surge that almost led to victory, American River College sabotaged itself in the California Community College Athletic Association’s state football championship game Saturday.
Fullerton College exploited untimely penalties and turnovers to repel the Beavers and earn a 29-27 victory at Yorba Linda High School’s Nathan Shapell Stadium.
The Fullerton College Hornets (12-1), ranked third nationally by JCGridiron.com, won their second state championship and first since 1967 – when they defeated ARC at the former Anaheim Stadium, the Los Angeles Angels’ home.
“I thought our team played incredible, considering the circumstances,” Beavers coach Jon Osterhout said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way our team competed. We just continued to fight.”
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ARC (10-3), ranked sixth nationally, sought the first state football title for any community college in the Sacramento area. But the Beavers threw five interceptions, four by quarterback Griffin Dahn, and committed 10 penalties for 180 yards.
The visitors also had to play much of the game without starting offensive left tackle Ben Davis, who left the game late in the first quarter after injuring his knee. With Davis sidelined, Fullerton constantly harassed Dahn, who still completed 26 of 49 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for a third to win the game’s outstanding offensive player award.
ARC began rallying from a 29-13 deficit late in the third quarter, when Dahn scored on an 8-yard run with 15 seconds left in the period before throwing a 2-point conversion pass to Damen Wheeler.
The Beavers narrowed the deficit to two points with 5:04 to play on Dahn’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Jabarri Johnson, who made a juggling catch in the end zone under intense pressure.
ARC then tried to tie the score with another 2-point conversion, but with the play clock winding down, the Beavers had to call a timeout.
“We had the wrong personnel grouping out on the field, so we tried to make a change late,” Osterhout said. “We had to burn a timeout, which was tough because you want to keep all three of those in case you don’t convert.”
ARC returned to the line of scrimmage but committed a false start that moved the Beavers back to their 8-yard line.
“We had a play dialed up that we thought was going to be successful from the 3 that we had been working on all year,” Osterhout said. “It was a play we felt very comfortable with. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it off. We had to change to another play, and we didn’t convert.
On that second conversion attempt, Dahn tried to pass as he was being sacked. Fullerton’s Xavier Chisholm interecepted.
“They do have an abundance of talent,” Osterhout said of the Hornets. “They have elite speed. They’ve got players across the board who are extremely dynamic, and they play the game the right way.”
ARC had one more chance after its defense forced Fullerton to punt with less than two minutes left.
“We work the two-minute drill all the time, all season long,” Osterhout said. “So we felt very comfortable with being able to get down the field and kick a field goal or get a touchdown to win the game.”
The Beavers moved from their 20 to their 41 within 13 seconds. But Fullerton’s Taj Jones made another interception with 1:24 left to ensure the win.
“They kind of hit us in the mouth,” Dahn said about the Hornets. “We made too many mistakes. But we put it all out there. We were bouncing back. I felt like if we had one more quarter, it was our game.”