Rancho Santiago was the only Orange County community college on the schedule Saturday night, but the Dons' 37-36 victory against El Camino probably would have been the best game in town in any case.
The game had all the makings of a blowout when Rancho Santiago opened a 24-7 lead at the half and was ahead, 31-13, midway into the third quarter.
But El Camino rallied and took a 36-31 lead with five minutes 28 seconds to play. The Dons then put together an 80-yard drive with the the winning touchdown coming on a two-yard pass from quarterback Gabe Garcia to fullback Donnie Bladow on fourth down as time ran out.
"You've got to come out of that game with your heart pounding and holding your breath," Rancho Santiago Coach Dave Ogas said. "That's true for the players and coaches on both sidelines. That was a great game for the fans as well.
"We keep telling people that (community college football) is the best kept secret around. It's too bad more people don't come out to watch. You certainly get your money's worth."
On the play before the game-winner, El Camino and its fans had been celebrating wildly as Garcia's fourth-down pass fell incomplete. But El Camino was called for a face-mask penalty in the end zone, giving the Dons another chance.
"I didn't see the flag until way after the play was over," Ogas said. "We didn't have any timeouts but Tom (Shine) had the play called and it worked. . . It ranks right up there with the most emotional wins for me here."
Idle thoughts: All five Orange County teams are playing Saturday.
While everyone wants a victory, the situation is most pressing at Orange Coast.
The Pirates figured to be one of the strongest teams around. But after losses to Mt. San Antonio and El Camino, OCC Coach Bill Workman would like to get things going in a positive direction.
The Pirates (0-2) play host to Pasadena (0-3) at 7 p.m.
"We had a chance to win both those games," Workman said. "In some respects we should have. We're not getting it done on the critical downs. I still think we're going to be one of the quality teams around."
Rancho Santiago plays host to Mt. San Antonio (3-0), Golden West (1-1) is at Southwestern (2-1), and Fullerton (1-1) is at Cerritos (2-0-1) in 7 p.m. games.
Saddleback (1-1) is at Grossmont (1-1) at 1:30 p.m. in El Cajon.
Palomar (3-0) is the top-ranked team in the Southland Poll this week. Mt. San Antonio is second, Bakersfield (2-0) third, Long Beach (3-0) fourth, Cerritos fifth, Saddleback sixth, Los Angeles Valley (2-0) seventh, Rancho Santiago eighth, San Bernardino Valley (2-1) ninth and Moorpark (1-1) 10th.
Water polo: Golden West, which has won four consecutive State titles under Coach Ken Hamdorf, opens South Coast Conference play Wednesday with a 3:30 p.m. game against visiting Cerritos.
Golden West, ranked No. 1 in California, is 8-0 and has has won the Merced and Cuesta tournaments.
Fullerton is at El Camino in another 3:30 p.m. South Coast Conference game Wednesday.
Community College Notes
Irvine Valley, which won the Golden West Invitational Saturday, is the top-ranked Southern California women's cross-country team. Mt. San Antonio is second, Orange Coast third, Cuesta fourth, El Camino fifth, Long Beach sixth, Ventura seventh, Golden West eighth, Glendale ninth and Riverside 10th. . . . In the men's poll: Mt. San Antonio is No. 1 and El Camino is second. Glendale is third, Cuyamaca fourth, Rancho Santiago fifth, Long Beach sixth, Antelope Valley seventh, Riverside eighth, College of the Desert ninth and College of the Canyons 10th.