Gamon Howard returns an interception for a touchdown on Nov. 11, 2018, against the College of San Mateo. (Courtesy: Eric Sun)

Rams lose 32-29 versus San Mateo in heartbreaker

With a playoff trip at stake, City College of San Francisco traveled to play arch-rival College of San Mateo on Sunday, after the game was pushed back a day because of the smoke from the Camp Fire.

The Rams fell 32-29 in a back-and-forth affair, but had a chance to come out on top. Turnovers and costly mistakes on special teams lost them the game and a chance at another state title.

“We needed to play better on special teams and not turn the ball over,” City College head coach Jimmy Collins said. “Defensively we had a great team effort, and the offensive line played great, but those mistakes cost us.”

The Bulldogs took the lead early in the first quarter on a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Shawn Akina to wide receiver Connell Ryans. After a safety and a 6-yard rushing touchdown by Akina, San Mateo was up 15-0 and things were looking bleak for the Rams.

City College running back DeShawn Collins provided the spark the Rams needed to get back in the game, returning a kickoff 75-yards and setting the offense up with excellent field position. Two plays later, City College would score its first touchdown of the game on 29-yard yard pass from quarterback Jack Newman to star sophomore receiver Frank Hall.

The Rams went for the two-point conversion and converted it on a wide receiver reverse to Hall to put the score at 15-8.

With a little over five minutes left in the first half, the Rams would get the ball back and score again, this time on a 17-yard pass from Newman to Collins. After kicker Dominik Soos nailed the extra point the game was tied at 15-15 heading into halftime.

On the opening kickoff of the second half, San Mateo running back Jalen Lampley ripped off a 96-yard return, burning past the defenders and electrifying the home crowd, to give his team a 22-15 lead.

“We needed more focus in the beginning and after halftime,” sophomore defensive back Jairus Woodson said. “They made more big plays then us.”

Midway through the third quarter, the Bulldogs scored again, this time on an 8-yard run by running back Viko Ahoia.

Now down 29-15, the Rams would claw their way back into the game, responding with their own scoring drive, marching 75 yards down the field on seven plays, and capped the drive off with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Newman to Collins, who caught the ball and danced his way through the San Mateo defense before diving into the end zone to put the score at 29-22 after Soos made the extra point.

Although Collins struggled runnung the ball, gaining just 19 yards on 16 attempts, Collins made up for it in the passing game, catching six passes for 91 yards with two touchdowns.

To begin the fourth quarter, the Rams drove all the way down to the San Mateo 1-yard line, but after getting stopped twice by the Bulldogs, they went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line, but were stopped for a turnover on downs.

The City College defense was able to hold San Mateo to only three points in the fourth quarter, setting the score at 32-22 and giving the offense a chance.

The Rams, though, turned the ball over on three straight drives, with back-to-back fumbles by Newman and then an interception, but even then, City College still had a chance.

With a little over three minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs had the ball at the Rams’ 6-yard line and were in position to further their lead, but the City College defense stepped up. Sophomore cornerback Gamon Howard jumped the passing route and ended up with a 91-yard pick six, cutting the lead to 10 after the extra point.

The defense forced a quick three-and-out, and got the ball back for the Ram’s offense with a little over two minutes to go. Returning in his first game back from an injury sophomore linebacker Anthony Porter led the way for the Rams, finishing the game with six tackles, including 2 ½ tackles for loss.

“I felt a little rust, but I had to come out there with the same fire I’ve had all season,” Porter said. “In the fourth we knew we had to make a stop for the offense, and we did.”

After getting the ball back, Newman and the offense started the drive at their own five yard line. Newman completed back-to-back passes to Frank Hall for gains of 32 and 17 yards.

“They played the same zone coverage on both plays,” Hall said. “So we were like OK, we going to attack this part of the zone, and we were able to do it back-to-back but then we came up short.”

After those two big plays, the Ram’s offense floundered at midfield. A false start, two incompletions, and a bad snap that cost the offense 17 yards set them up with a fourth-and-32, which they could not convert.

After the game, emotions were running high for City College, but the players tried to keep their focus on their upcoming bowl game.

“It is very heartbreaking,” Porter said. “I played last year and we didn’t get to make the playoffs, and I really wanted to make them this year. It just didn’t turn out our way. For the bowl game we got to come out hard, we know nobody can out physically beat us, we have too much athleticism and great players on our team.”

The Rams will now head into a bowl game, playing Modesto on Nov. 17. With a young team that features many freshman, the game will be an opportunity to provide them with momentum heading into the 2019 season. City College is now 7-3, while San Mateo finished the season with a 8-2 record and a trip to the playoffs.

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