For years Saddleback College of Mission Viejo has been regarded as the second-best community college football team in Orange County, but no longer.
Saturday afternoon in the fifth PONY Bowl, the passing and running of quarterback Jason Schmid led the Gauchos to a 32-13 victory over Fullerton before 7,200 fans in Costa Mesa's LeBard Stadium.
Mission Conference champion Saddleback finished 11-0 for the second time since 1981 and defeated the Pac-9 Conference champion Hornets (8-3), who have been the dominant county team for most of the last 25 years, for the first time.
The Gauchos, ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Snow College of Utah by the JC Grid Wire, will most likely end up in the second spot. Snow defeated Northeastern Oklahoma Saturday in the Mid-American Bowl at Tulsa, 29-14, to also complete an 11-0 year.
The final rankings will be released Monday.
Schmid completed 16 of 27 attempts for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushed for a game-high 87 yards in 20 carries. The sophomore from Santa Ana Foothill High School finished the season with a school-record 2,682 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Fullerton's mistakes were both numerous and costly.
Richard Williams, the Hornets' redshirt freshman quarterback, mishandled and fumbled two snaps in the first quarter, helping the Gauchos to a 14-0 lead.
The Hornets made it 14-7 early in the second quarter when they fooled Saddleback with a fake field goal. Dean Hankins ran 13 yards for the touchdown to cap an 81-yard, nine-play drive.
The key play of the game came with just more than a minute left in the half. Fullerton backup quarterback Mike Zorn, who has shared duties with Williams all year, was sacked by Saddleback's Neil Wallner at the Saddleback 43. Not only did Zorn fumble, but he suffered a sprained right ankle and was sidelined the rest of the afternoon.
The Gauchos moved the ball to the Fullerton 39, and then Saddleback Coach Ken Swearingen called on Tracy Rutkowski, another former Foothill star, to try a 49-yard field goal. Rutkowski's kick was good with several yards to spare, setting a school record and giving Saddleback a 17-7 lead.
A 27-yard punt by Fullerton's Gus Madrigal gave Saddleback the ball at midfield to start its first possession of the second half. The Gauchos drove 50 yards in 4 plays to take a 24-7 lead. The touchdown came on a 12-yard run by Schmid, who surprised the Hornet defense several times with quarterback draws.
Fullerton cut the lead to 24-13 six minutes later when end Benjamin Vega stole the ball from Schmid and raced 45 yards for a touchdown. Saddleback's Yepi Pauu blocked Todd Reynolds' extra-point try.
But Saddleback secured the win at the 2:30 mark of the third quarter when Alvin Pierce out-fought Fullerton's Tom Inglima to catch a 21-yard touchdown pass from Schmid. It gave the Gauchos a 30-13 lead.