SAN MARCOS — What started out as a blowout for Saddleback College turned into a close game, but the Gauchos defeated Palomar, 37-27, Saturday in a Mission Conference football game in front of 500 at San Marcos High School.
Saddleback led, 28-0, late in the second quarter and appeared headed toward an easy victory.
Palomar was able to close to 34-20 and had a first down on the Saddleback seven-yard line with 8:42 left in the game. But Palomar quarterback Rocky Aukuso fumbled and Saddleback defensive end Brad Schmidt recovered.
Saddleback then drove to the Palomar 27. J.B. Hollis kicked a 44-yard field goal with 4:50 left to give Saddleback a 37-20 lead.
"I didn't like it one bit," said Ken Swearingen, Saddleback coach. "But I do like the final score. There we were, way out in front, and we end up having to hang on."
The victory keeps Saddleback (6-2, 6-1) in a tie for first in conference with Orange Coast, which defeated San Diego City, 31-14, Saturday. It was Saddleback's fifth consecutive victory. Palomar is 4-3-1, 3-3-1.
Saddleback quarterback Howard Gasser threw three first-half touchdown passes but injured his left ankle late in the second quarter and was replaced by Phil Marks.
Marks threw a 27-yard pass for a touchdown to Kelly Ryan with 2:20 left in the third quarter and Saddleback led, 34-13.
Ryan finished with 4 catches for 109 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Palomar's Thomas Maney returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown with 11:38 left in the game to cut the Saddleback lead to 34-20.
Gasser then limped back to replace Marks, who fumbled twice and lost one, but Saddleback had to punt and Palomar moved to the Saddleback seven before Aukuso's fumble.
Gasser completed 13 of 23 passes for 214 yards and was not intercepted for the sixth consecutive game. He has gone 151 attempts without an interception.
Jim Francis had a career-high 134 yards in 23 carries for Saddleback.
Palomar got its final points on a 20-yard pass from Brent Watson to William Edwards with 2:18 left. Saddleback ran out the clock.
In other Mission Conference games:
Orange Coast 31, San Diego City 14--Keith Jarrett hit Junior Tagaloa with a 76-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage as the Pirates (7-1) were off to a record-setting performance.
Tagaloa, who caught three touchdown passes for the third time this season, set a conference and county career reception yardage record. His 5 catches for 173 yards gave him a career total of 105 receptions for 1,840 yards.
Keith Jarrett (15 of 29 for 307 yards and 3 touchdowns) set an OCC record for 20 touchdown passes in a season, breaking Dave White's 1975 record of 19. Bart Recktenwald, who carried 19 times for 155 yards and a touchdown, set a conference season record for all-purpose yards. Recktenwald has 2,151 all-purpose yards this season.