Ken Swearingen, Saddleback College coach, said this week that of all the teams remaining on the Gauchos' schedule, San Diego Mesa scared him the most.
Saturday night, though, Swearingen found out that the Olympians were nothing to be afraid of.
Saddleback dominated San Diego Mesa from the opening kickoff to the final gun and scored an easy 36-7 Mission Conference win before 1,800 at Saddleback Field.
The Gauchos (3-0 in conference and 5-0 overall), ranked third in the nation and second in the Southland, were expected to have a difficult time with the Olympians (2-1, 3-2), the eighth-ranked team in the Southland.
But San Diego Mesa, which had won three straight since a season-opening loss, looked helpless against the Gauchos, who recorded their 46th straight home victory.
Saddleback scored a touchdown and two field goals on its first three possessions and, at the same time, completely shut down San Diego Mesa's high-powered passing game.
Quarterback David Darroch, hindered by Saddleback's strong pass rush and the extra defensive backs employed on passing downs, could complete only 10 of 31 attempts for 110 yards. Gilbert Hawkins, the state's leading receiver, had only one reception for six yards.
"Our defense was just outstanding," said Swearingen, who was as surprised as anyone with the ease of the victory. "They're a lot better team than they showed, but our defense was the reason for that."
Saddleback's offense wasn't as efficient as its defense, but that's because the Gauchos' receiving corps and offensive line has been handicapped with injuries.
Still, quarterback Jason Schmid was able to complete 17 of 30 attempts for 177 yards and 1 touchdown.
Tracy Rutkowski kicked three field goals, Quincy Frank returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown and Bret Mersola tied a school record with nine receptions for the Gauchos.
On the night, Saddleback, which ran off a school-record 102 plays, outgained San Diego Mesa in total yards, 349-140. San Diego Mesa was held to zero yards rushing.
Saddleback used a familiar combination--good execution and good fortune--to take a 26-0 halftime lead over the Olympians.
Saddleback forced San Diego Mesa to punt after three plays on the game's opening possession. Then Jeff Bielman returned Mike Martin's punt 15 yards to give the Gauchos outstanding field position at the Olympians' 38-yard line.
Four plays later, Schmid was nearly sacked twice but was able to evade defenders long enough to get off a pass to tight end Tony Palamara, who was wide open in the end zone. Palamara made the catch, and the 31-yard touchdown pass play gave Saddleback a 7-0 lead two minutes into the game.
San Diego Mesa's Chris Taylor fumbled on the first play of the Olympians' ensuing possession, and Mike Hoffman recovered for Saddleback at the San Diego Mesa 23-yard line.
Saddleback could move no deeper than the Olympian 16, however, and had to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Rutkowski and a 10-0 lead with 10:19 left in the first quarter.
San Diego Mesa drove into Saddleback territory for the only time in the first half on their next possession. But on third down and 15 to go from the Gauchos' 48, Darroch was sacked for a nine-yard loss by Neil Wallner.
Saddleback took over and drove to the San Diego Mesa 26. Rutkowski then kicked his 10th field goal of the season in 12 tries, a 43-yarder, to make it 13-0 in favor of the Gauchos.
Rutkowski attempted a 51-yarder early in the second quarter, but the snap was poor and the sophomore's kick barely made it over the line of scrimmage. It bounced off several San Diego Mesa players and was fumbled by two until it was finally recovered in the Olympian end zone by Palamara.
Saddleback's final score of the half came on a 59-yard, 12-play drive the culminated on a two-yard run by Bret Mersola with 6:29 left in the quarter.
In the half, Saddleback outgained San Diego Mesa, 259 yards to 60.
San Diego Mesa 0 0 7 0 -- 7 Saddleback 13 13 7 3 -- 36 Sad--Palamara 31 pass from Schmid (Rutkowski kick)
Sad--FG Rutkowski 33
Sad--FG Rutkowski 43
Sad--Palamara fumble recovery in end zone (pass failed)
Sad--Mersola 2 run (Rutkowski kick)
Sad--Frank 86 kickoff return (Rutkowski kick)
SDM--James 21 interception return (Doonan kick)
Sad--FG Rutkowski 37
In other Mission Conference action:
Riverside City 21, Orange Coast 14--Tiger quarterback Keith Widener scored on a five-yard run with 14:42 remaining to lift Riverside City to the win in LeBard Stadium at Costa Mesa.
The Tigers (2-1 in conference, 3-2 overall) held a 13-0 first-period lead on the strength of Widener's 44-yard touchdown pass to Damon Medlock and Mike Moore's 1-yard scoring run, but the Pirates (0-2, 0-3-1) came back with 14 points in the second quarter. Ken Laszlo scored from one yard out, while Scot Hagey scored on a two-yard run.