Just about all of the players who participated in Saturday's game between Moorpark College and Glendale looked as if they had spent the afternoon wrestling with the locals at the Exotic Animal Zoo next to Moorpark Stadium.
And then there was Sal Velasco, the Glendale kicker, who stood among the muddied and bloodied after Glendale's 16-7 Western State Conference win, beaming with a phosphorescent grin almost as bright as his spotless white jersey.
"It's tough to stand on the sidelines all the time," said Velasco, a sophomore from Burbank High. "I wish I could go into games and contribute more."
After having one field-goal attempt blocked and an extra-point try botched by a muffed snap, Velasco made his contribution when he kicked a 19-yard field goal with 20 seconds left to give the Vaqueros a 9-7 lead. Fifteen seconds later, linebacker Raymond Brackin intercepted a Moorpark pass and rumbled 33 yards for a touchdown. Who said lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place?
"It was a bitter defeat," Moorpark Coach Jim Bittner said. "The game meant a lot. I felt like we would have a had a bowl invitation if we could win the last three games. That kind of seems remote right now."
While Moorpark (5-2, 2-2) might have lost out on a postseason appearance, Glendale (4-4, 4-1) looks more and more like a bowl-bound team. The Vaqueros have won four games in a row after an 0-4 start and will meet Bakersfield in a first-place showdown Saturday.
Moorpark jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Dana Griffin's 76-yard touchdown run with 6:07 left in the first quarter and that's how the game stood for until the final period.
Glendale finally got on the board with 8:46 left when quarterback Chris Smith capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rocky Palamara. Smith, who holds on kicks, then watched a perfect snap, and a potential tie, sail through his hands, and the Glendale score remained at 6.
Smith, however, came back and engineered another long scoring drive on the Vaqueros' next possession. The sophomore from Loyola High marched his team 79 yards in 13 plays to set up Velasco's game-winning field goal. This time he got the snap down.
"I was wearing gloves on the point-after and I couldn't handle the ball," Smith said. "I took them off for the field goal and there wasn't a problem."
Smith presented plenty of problems for Moorpark, though. He passed for 112 yards, completing 9 of 14 passes, including his last 8.
The Moorpark defense, which gives up an average of 224.7 yards a game, allowed Glendale 318. Gene Harlin carried 17 times for 107 yards and Donnel Pumphrey had 95 yards on 18 carries.
Glendale, meanwhile, limited Moorpark to just 187 yards with Griffin rushing for 112.