East County Sports

Gray leads Olympians to bowl triumph

2022 COMMUNITY COLLEGE FOOTBALL

 

Southern California Bowl
San Diego Mesa 21, El Camino 20

 

By Nick Pellegrino
ECS staff writer

KEARNY MESA — The defense for San Diego Mesa College has been among the best second-half units in Southern California all season.

However, an epic collapse was on the table when El Camino registered 10 points to move within a point of the Olympians in Saturday’s (Nov. 26) Southern California Bowl.

Fortunately, a player with ties to the East County came to the rescue.

Patrick Henry High alum Bennett Walker intercepted a Warriors pass with 1:25 remaining, as the Olympians hung on to nip El Camino, 21-20, at Merrill Douglas Stadium.

Mesa attempted to put away the victory, but quarterback Gunnar Gray was also intercepted upon entering the El Camino red zone with 2:55 left.

The Warriors then marched quickly down the field, as quarterback Kijjon Foots completed a pair of passes for 15 and 11 yards, then a Mesa defensive holding penalty — by Bennett, stopped the clock when Foots scrambled for 11 additional yards deep into Mesa territory.

Fortunately, Bennett made up for his faux pas with the biggest defensive play in the second half. The theft was Bennett’s first of the season, but the timing was perfect.

Mesa tried to kill the clock, but the Warriors used their timeouts to force a punt. But Olympians punter Martin Fontenot IV (Louisiana) answered with a 50-yard boot to the El Camino-20 with 14 seconds to go.

 

Early On

Following the first of two field goals by El Camino’s Jose Murrillo (33 and 29 yards), Mesa answered with a 10-yard TD run by Daniel Latanca in the first quarter, then Gray found Anthony Gilpin on a 22-yard pass in the second quarter.

Foots closed the half with a 10-yard score to Khyren Ross with 0″08 left before the break to make it 14-10.

The third quarter saw El Camino grab a brief lead on a 4-yard run by Brian Santana to take a 17-14 lead, However, Gray answered midway through the fourth quarter on a 62-yard bomb to Antoine Sullivan for what turned out to be the game-winning tally.

Murrillo’s second field goal came with 6:38 to go, as El Camino went against the current hot trend of ignoring the kick based on analytics, thinking they would get the ball back.

The Warriors did, but Bennett sealed the deal.

The bowl victory was Mesa’s first by a 1-point margin in school history. The school’s historic 1-point loss came in the 1981 Pony Bowl against Saddleback, 13-12, n 1981 at Cerritos College in Norwalk, when the fog got so bad, visibility from the press box was gone, with game officials unable to run the scoreboard or keep the game statistics.

Gray finished with 309 passing yards, completing 21-of-39 passes, with two TDs and two picks. Foots was 27-for-43 for 254 yards — 52 coming on a single play – with one score and an interception.

Mesa rushed for 86 yards, including 78 by Daniel Latanca on 15 carries. Sullivan topped the receiving corps with four grabs for 88 yards.

Mesa finished the season with a 7-4 overall record. El Camino wraps up at 5-6, only qualifying for a bowl berth on the final day of the regular season by whipping Palomar, 52-24, to eliminate the Comets (5-5).

Awards

Sullivan gained the Player of the game Award for Mesa, while the overall Game MVP Award went to Gray, a December grad who is mulling several scholarship offers.

The official Player of the Game for El Camino was Foots. However, the media vote offered the award to wide receiver Brenden Hodge, who had a break-out contest with 12 receptions for 152 yards.

Mesa avenged a wild 54-45 bowl loss to El Camino in the 2019 Patriotic  Bowl, also held at Mesa.

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