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May 22, 2022

FOOTBALL: Gavilan knocks off Yuba in opener for first home win in five seasons

Touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams earned Gavilan College its first home football victory in five seasons with a resounding 33-20 decision over the Yuba College 49ers at Garcia-Elder Sports Complex on Saturday night

Spencer Gilford’s first victory as head coach of the Rams was earned as Gavilan College began its 50th season of football.

“The effort and attitude we’ve been teaching since February came through,” Gilford said. “We fought to the end. We bowed our backs when we needed to do that.”

Yuba, a Bay Valley Conference member coming off a 6-4 season, was led by tailback Juan Johnson, the state’s leading rusher in 2011. The 198-pound speedster did not disappoint, covering 280 yards and one touchdown in 28 carries. The 49ers came up short in the red zone, however, including two missed field goals.

While the visitors depended on Johnson, the Rams opted for a balanced passing attack. Omar Kharroub, the sophomore quarterback, emerged with 307 yards passing on a 16-for-26 night, including two touchdowns.

Gavilan also benefited from its own offensive weapon, wide-out Marcus Harrell. The 5-foot-7 all-purpose threat out of Christopher High School finished with 100 yards receiving and a pivotal 75-yard kick off return for a touchdown.

Yuba fashioned a 15-3 edge in first downs through the first half, yet went into the intermission leading on the scoreboard only 14-13.

“We discussed everything at halftime and our offense stepped up in the second half,” Kharroub said. “The receivers all ran routes hard, which made it easy for me.”

After repelling one Yuba march inside the Rams’ 16-yard stripe in the first quarter, the 49ers appeared ready to open the scoring with a 68-yard drive that reached the Rams’ seven at the end of the first quarter.

Although the 49ers ran the ball on 10 of 11 plays to finish the quarter, Yuba’s Zach Hutcheson called a play-action pass play to open the second quarter. When Hutcheson turned away from a strong rush from Rams lineman William Lee, the quarterback lost possession of the ball. Linebacker Terrence Keys was in position to catch the ball in stride and race untouched 79 yards to paydirt. Dominic Changco’s PAT kick with 14:46 left in the half had the Rams up 7-0.

“I got the ball and just ran,” Keys said of his first-ever touchdown. “Our defense played together. We kept fighting to the end.”

Yuba stayed away from the forward pass on the ensuing series, taking nine running plays to cover 47 yards and an equalizing 4-yard burst from Johnson.

Two series later, Yuba went up 14-7 on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Hutcheson to Matt Wittler. The 49ers could not enjoy the lead too long, however, as Harrell went from the left sideline to the right, then back across the field to complete his 75-yard kick off return to leave the Rams down 14-13 with 1:55 left in the half.

“I knew when wide receiver Christian Goldstein made that one block that was needed, which was crucial to get me to the edge, that I could return it back,” Harrell said.

While the Rams were able to withstand Johnson’s ongoing strong rushing performance, they turned to the air as well as timely defense to lock up the victory.

Kharroub was 3-for-3 on the first series of the second half, completing the 71-yard march in two minutes to take a 20-14 lead. Kharroub’s lob pass over the Yuba defense found wide-out Bobby Guyton in stride for the 48-yard touchdown play.

“When we were leaving the huddle I told Marcus that ‘I’ve got this,’” Guyton said. “I split out and was able to get past the defender.”

Yuba finished its portion of the scoring by covering 67 yards on the next series. Johnson’s 47-yard burst moved Yuba to the Rams’ 10. Hutcheson’s 3-yard toss on third down to Randell Soloman pulled the visitors into a 20-20 tie. Gavilan’s Shawn Paul blocked the PAT.

When Hutcheson tried a slant pass to his right flank midway through the third period, Rams defensive back Jeff Smith was in position to make the interception and speed the 21 yards to the decisive touchdown.

“(Hutcheson) looked at the wide receiver and my job was to sit in the flat,” Smith said of his defensive positioning. “He threw the ball right at me.”

The Rams added the only points of the fourth quarter on a Kharroub 55-yard touchdown pass to running back Edward Bernard. The sophomore pulled in the swing pass then cut back from the left sideline and slipped through the defense for the insurance touchdown.

Yuba finished with a 413-321 edge in total offense. Guyton’s four receptions covered 85 yards. The Rams held Hutcheson to 68 yards on 10-of-21 passing.

“There are still a lot of things we need to fix, too,” cautioned Gilford.

The Rams go after a second nonconference win next Saturday in Redding against Shasta College.

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