By Jacob Wilson/Garden Grove Journal
The Rancho Alamitos Vaqueros fought back to beat the Pioneer Titans of Whittier 20-14 and improve to 2-0. Pioneer fell to 1-1.
“We always tell our players to keep fighting,” Rancho Head Coach Mike Enright said. “They battled.”
For a while it almost seemed like an unfair fight.
For over two and a half quarters Rancho had no answer for Pioneer fullback Angel Marquez. The big senior racked up more than 160 yards and a touchdown, leading the Titans to a 14-12 lead in a game that didn’t feel that close.
Marquez and the Titans were poised to add another seven points and put the Vaqueros behind the eight ball in the third.
On first and goal from the eight Marquez gained five yards. On second and three he gained a modest two yards, before getting stopped from behind.
It was great stop by the Vaquero defense, but now the Titans were just one yard away with two downs to go.
Officially Marquez went nowhere on third down, bringing up fourth and one. In reality he gained most of the yard he needed, moving the ball directly behind the goal line.
It wasn’t fourth and inches. It was fourth and inch.
Titan quarterback Jonathan Jimenez took the snap and handed the ball to Marquez who hit a wall. The Rancho front line stood Marquez straight up then seemingly bent him backwards.
No gain. Rancho ball.
“Our defense responded and won the game for us,” Enright said
Starting from their own one-yard line, Rancho got out of danger fast. Quarterback Matt Culbert found Robert Torres for a 12-yard gain. Culbert followed with a bootleg run for another seven yards. But a Vaquero fumble put the ball and the momentum back in the Titans’ hands.
Not for long though. On his first play since the goal-line stand, Marquez was dropped for a one-yard loss and had to be helped off the field with a leg injury. Without him the Titan offense stalled, leading to a missed field goal.
The Vaqueros started where they had last ended: their own 20-yard line. Culbert again connected with Torres for 10 yards and with Jose Valenzuela for another eight. Four straight run plays and a face mask penalty by the Titans set Rancho up inside the Titan 25-yard line.
Two plays later, Culbert threw a short screen pass to Gonzalez. The junior turned, broke a tackle and found the end zone for six points. Rancho added two more on a short run by Torres to lead 20-14.
Despite scoring the winning touchdown, Gonzalez deflected credit to the Rancho defense.
“The defense stepped it up,” he said. “Defense wins games and championships.
The Titans had no fight left, fumbling twice before running out of downs with less than a minute left.
Culbert threw for 125 yards and two touchdowns on the night, the other a 26-yard strike to Torres in the second quarter. Torres and Gonzalez combined for 121 receiving yards. Keanu Duquet scored Rancho’s first touchdown and led the Vaqueros with 70 rushing yards.
The Vaqueros host Ganesha High School of Pomona Friday at 7 p.m. The Giants are 0-2 on the year and won just two games the year before.
Although it’s important to win any game, Enright likes to see the Vaqueros as a work in progress until Garden Grove League play.
“Our goal is to improve each week,” he said. “We want to be running on all cylinders when we start league.”
Rancho is the early favorite to win the league championship.