Football squad edges out Tigers in gridiron battle

Comets protects 21st place state rank with win


Cody Casares / The Advocate

Comet running back Robert Wilkes plows over Tiger linebacker Clay Jones and into the end zone during Contra Costa College’s 37-28 win against Reedley College on Saturday at Comet Stadium.

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

The Comets faced their biggest challenge of the year thus far, trailing just before halftime then roaring back to score late and defeat previously unbeaten Reedley College (2-1) 37-28 on Saturday at Comet Stadium.

The prospect of this game being decided in the final quarter was not a foreign concept to the Contra Costa College (3-0) coaching staff. When the two teams met last year it took a heroic fourth quarter touchdown to solidify CCC’s victory.

This game would be no different.

Stellar performances by Comet quarterback Cameron Burston (21-24 for 354 yards passing, four touchdowns and no interceptions) and receiver Frank Stephens (six receptions for 244 yards and three touchdowns) were overshadowed by a defense that netted four sacks and four clutch interceptions, two of the picks by defensive back Nico Hurst.

“I wasn’t paying attention to the stats during the game,” Burston said. “I was only focused on getting the W, limiting my mistakes and not committing any turnovers.”

The game started slowly, with neither generating much offense. Either the abnormally warm San Pablo afternoon was to blame or the extensive amount of time each team undoubtedly spent watching film leading into the contest.

Three punts and a turnover on downs ended the first four series of the game. It was not until Reedley broke the scoring drought with a touchdown eight minutes into the game that the two teams began heating up.

CCC’s response was unimpressive, settling for a 30-yard Lorann Fonseca field goal after plowing deep into the Tiger red zone.

Trailing 7-3 after one quarter, the Comet offense still could not get into a productive flow. The Tigers capitalized on a costly CCC penalty and translated the gift into six points on a 12-yard rushing touchdown.

“The times they did score were more from mental mistakes on our end,” CCC linebacker Teddy Noble said. “We wanted to come out firing and play gap control, (defensive) assignment football.”

With the deficit growing and the offensive line whiffing on pass rushers for most of the first half, Burston somehow put together an eight-play drive completing seven passes ending with a 25-yard touchdown to Stephens, cutting Reedley’s lead to 14-10.

Feeling momentum creeping in, the combustible Comets harnessed that energy, stopping the Tiger offense by way of a Jackson Finch interception that the safety returned 42 yards up the field.

His return was a more practical choice than the lateral route he took returning an interception in the Comet home opener two weeks ago.

Burston made Reedley pay for the mistake with a lead-taking 53-yard touchdown to Stephens.

CCC led 17-14 at the half.

Out of the halftime break, the Comets showed no signs of easing up. Just three plays into the half Stephens found himself darting 77 yards into the end zone after receiving a laser pass from Burston.

For Stephens, the catch would be his third touchdown of the game.

“We have a unique group. They’re young so you need to shake them up sometimes — we only have 20 or so sophomores,” CCC coach Alonzo Carter said. “I tell them if they can withstand the best of any team for the first two quarters then we will be OK in the second half because of our (roster) depth.”

Comet receiver Malcolm Hale (five receptions, 25 yards, one touchdown) made fielding a punt as difficult as it seems, fumbling a return just a series later that led directly to a Reedley touchdown.

But in a fashion indicative of this game, it was Hale who was on the receiving end of a 13-yard touchdown pass from Burston just minutes later.

Stunned and discombobulated following a 40-yard Falcon kickoff return, the Comets would promptly give up a 59-yard touchdown pass one play later.

But the Comets still led 31-28 after three quarters.

Both teams played conservatively going into the final quarter with neither willing to risk having a big mistake be the reason for a loss.

After the Comet defense forced a Falcon turnover on downs, Comet running back, deemed “bruising back” by his teammates, Robert Wilkes blasted his way across the goal line, giving CCC six more points.

It was now time for the defense to take the spotlight.

A six-yard sack by Comet linebacker Amari Mount (three tackles and one sack) and another interception by Hurst (four tackles and two interceptions) highlighted the next Tiger possession and set the tone for the rest of the game.

Comet defenders would continue to rattle Reedley signal caller Austin Bray, forcing a third down sack and fumble recovered by the Tigers.

Leading to a drive-ending, hope-killing six-yard sack on fourth down by Chima Onyeukwu (six tackles and one sack).

The Comets play at 6 p.m. Saturday on the road against a Merced College team that played tough until the end last year against the Comets, with CCC narrowly winning the game 27-20.