"We let a 10-point lead get away in the second half," Rush said of the Rams’ 38-35 loss in the 1997 state title game that acted as the de facto junior-college national championship contest. "It’s a tough one to forget."
Rush is hoping for a decidedly different outcome today, when his Rams take on the Mounties in the state championship game at Chukchansi Park in Fresno. It will be the first meeting between the two teams since the fateful day in 1997.
The Rams are coming off their best defensive effort of the season, a 24-10 victory over Sierra College in the NorCal championship game in which CCSF held the high-scoring Wolverines well below their season average of 41.5 points per game.
CCSF will need a similar effort today as they once again face a high-powered offense in the Mounties, who enter the meeting averaging nearly 45 points and 440 yards per game. Sophomore Kevin Craft leads the attack, throwing for 3,933 yards and 42 touchdowns, including 16 to his favorite receiver, sophomore Aiona Key.
"We can’t focus on just taking away the run or just taking away the pass," Rush said. "They’re a balanced offense. We have to make sure we defend the entire field."
That game plan worked against Sierra — enough so to catch the notice of the Mount SAC coaching staff.
"We think this is probably the best defense we will see all year," Mount SAC coach Bob Jastrab said. "They’ve got great team speed, they’re big and they’re aggressive. It’s going to be a challenge."
Jastrab said there was little surprise his team was facing perennial NorCal favorite CCSF.
"Every team down south assumes if they win the division, they’ll be facing Frisco," Jastrab said. "They run a great program up there."
Unlike CCSF, which needed just one bowl win to clinch the NorCal title, Mount SAC had to square off against three Southern California teams to secure a spot in the championship game.
"It’s hard enough to get out of Southern California, then knowing we have to play Frisco makes it a little tougher," Jastrab said.
Along with some fresher legs, many CCSF veterans still have last year’s title game on their mind. Hurt by an injury to then-starting quarterback Zac Lee, the heavily favored Rams lost 49-35 to El Camino.
With Lee’s replacement, Jeremiah Masoli, this year adeptly steering an offense averaging 40.5 points per game, the Rams are talking confidently about capturing the school’s first state championship since 2003.
"We feel we’ve matured so much since last year," said sophomore wide receiver Adrian Hilburn, who has caught 44 passes for 555 yards this year. "We know what we have to do to win. If we play hard and avoid turnovers and penalties, we’ll bring the title back here."
» LOCATION: Walnut (Los Angeles County)
» CONFERENCE: Mission National Division (Southern California Division)
» COACH: Bob Jastrab, third season
» PASSING LEADER: Kevin Craft—288-of-466, 3,933 yards, 42 TDs, 7 interceptions
» RUSHING LEADER: William Woods—118 carries, 552 yards, 4 TDs.
» RECEIVING LEADER: Aiona Key—68 receptions, 933 yards, 16 TDs.
» MORE MOUNTIES: Mount San Antonio College has faced CCSF just once, but that matchup was a memorable 38-35 triumph that gave the Mounties to the 1997 junior-college national championship. … Like most JC teams in California, the Mounties pack a serious offensive punch. Led by sophomore QB and one-time San Diego Aztec Kevin Craft, Mount SAC is averaging 44.7 points per game this season in compiling a 10-2 record. Craft’s favorite target in the red zone is sophomore Aiona Key, who leads the team with 68 catches and 16 touchdowns. Complementing Key is sophomore WR Matt Austin, who has roped in 65 passes for a team-high 957 yards. … Unlike CCSF, which needed just one victory, Mount SAC had to play three games in three weeks to advance to the state title game. "It’s a grind," said the Mounties third-year head coach Bob Jastrab. "We’ve already faced three real good ballclubs to get a chance to go up and play Frisco."