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Pasadena rallies to edge Vaqueros 15-14 in season finale

Nick Foster caught a career-high 10 passes for 191 yards, including a 43-yard TD for the game's first touchdown. (Photo by Ken Sciallo/Sevilla Photography)
Nick Foster caught a career-high 10 passes for 191 yards, including a 43-yard TD for the game's first touchdown. (Photo by Ken Sciallo/Sevilla Photography)

Pasadena City College produced two 100-yard rushers and converted a key 2-point conversion with six minutes to play on Saturday in a 15-14 come-from-behind football win over SBCC.

Darnell Williams gained 146 yards on the ground on 23 tries for a 6.3-yard average. Salman Gurung added 17 attempts for 117 yards and both touchdowns. His second one was a 9-yard run up the middle with 5:59 to play, cutting the deficit to 14-13.

The Lancers (4-6, 2-3 APL) lined up to kick the PAT but the Vaqueros were flagged for having 12 men on the field. The ball moved to the 1½-yard line and Pasadena rolled the dice and went for two. They loaded up the backfield with two oversized blockers and Gurung scored easily up the middle for the 15-14 advantage.

The Vaqueros got the ball on their own 22 and moved to the 42 before the drive stalled and Martin Ahlstroem had to punt with three minutes left. Pasadena converted a crucial third-and-6 from its own 24 with 2:18 remaining as Williams ran 10 yards for a first down to secure the win.

SBCC quarterback Franco De Luca had his second straight solid game, going 12-for-21 through the air for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone with 12 seconds left in the first half.

The Vaqueros (2-8, 1-4) took a 14-0 first-quarter lead on a pair of TD passes by De Luca. They needed just three plays to cover 43 yards on their first possession after an 18-yard PCC punt.

De Luca hooked up with his favorite target, Nick Foster, for a 43-yard scoring pass and the Vaqueros led 7-0 just 3½ minutes into the game. Foster had a career day, catching 10 passes for 191 yards. That's the fourth-highest yardage total in school history.

"We started off strong and we were really explosive," said Foster, a 6-foot freshman from Orinda, Calif. "Everything we put in during practice, we executed very well. They made some adjustments at halftime and kind of stifled us a little bit.

"Frank and I have been working so hard in practice. I've never experienced anything like this, seeing three QBs go down with injuries. He comes to practice every day and works so hard, he's done an amazing job.

"I pride myself on being able to come down with everything that's thrown. You only have so many opportunities to make plays, so you have to take advantage of them."

Isaac Lopez intercepted a Mario Bobadilla pass to thwart Pasadena's second series. The Lancers punted to the Vaquero 41 on their third series and SBCC needed just three plays to score again.

De Luca hit Foster on a 45-yard catch-and-run to the Lancer 14. On second down, De Luca threw a perfect down-and-out pass into a tight window, right in the arms of Leland Gropper for a 10-yard TD. Ahlstroem's PAT made it 14-0.

The Lancers outrushed the Vaqueros 259 to 77 and won the yardage battle, 340 to 287. They ran 23 more plays (71-48) and had the ball for 12 more minutes (36:05 to 23:55).

"It's disappointing that our last game ended in a loss for all the sophomores who play so hard," said coach Craig Moropoulos. "You get caught up in the fact that we lost the game and how we lost the game, that substitution penalty with 12 guys on the field. That's unfortunate because these guys played hard for 60 minutes. That's all you can really ask for."

Andreas Buri, a sophomore linebacker from Bern, Switzerland, made a career-high 15 tackles, including eight solo. Chase Elliott and Matthew Molina added 11 tackles each. Buri had 13, 10 and 15 tackles in his last three games to rise to the top of the Vaquero defensive chart with 68 tackles on the year.

Pasadena scored on its first drive of the second quarter when Gurung scored on a 16-yard run, cutting the deficit to 14-7 with 11:44 to go in the first half.

"We led for nearly the entire game," said Moropoulos. "If you had told me in the fifth game that we would play 5½ games with one quarterback, I would have said, 'You're crazy.' But that's what happened.

"Bless his heart, he got better, he rose up and he played confidently. I was really proud of him."

The Lancers drove 96 yards on their game-winning drive in 11 plays after an Ahlstroem punt hit just outside the goal line and backed up to the 4-yard line. Nine of the 11 plays were runs, capped by Gurung's 9-yard run up the middle.

De Luca found Foster for a 20-yard gain on SBCC's last drive before David Bardanian batted down a pass in the backfield to force a punt.

Foster caught five passes in the first half for 124 yards and a touchdown.

"Nick is a special player," Moropoulos noted. "If the ball's in his vicinity, he's going to catch it more times than not. He's a player."

The Vaqueros were hindered by a slew of injuries to key players this year.

"I've never had a season like this," admitted Moropoulos. "This team is special in my mind, not because of the record but because of the fact that they just kept coming back and they played so hard.

"We were playing with a fifth-team quarterback and he became a player. We're going to focus on that and not worry about the end of this game or any other game."