It was a premier showdown featuring two deeply rooted rivals in Wheelock Stadium on Saturday night as the No. 3 Riverside City College Tigers hosted the top-ranked and defending state champion Fullerton College Hornets. In front of a standing room only crowd, it came down to the final minutes in the fourth quarter with Riverside down by a mere point. The Tigers were within striking distance in the final minutes, but fell just shy and were handed a 34-33 loss.
It was Fullerton who struck first during their first possession of the game on a four play, 34-yard drive. Despite the Tiger defense forcing a punt after allowing Fullerton to gain just eight yard on five plays, the Hornets were able to punch it in once again on their third possession.
Despite facing a 13-0 deficit early, Riverside called on old reliable goal line package quarterback Vic Viramontes who rumbled into the end zone for a three-yard rushing touchdown. Sophomore kicker John Garibay booted home the extra point to trim the deficit to 13-7.
Fullerton did not slow down by scoring on their first possession of the second quarter, but Riverside held their own on defense the following three possessions despite an uncharacteristic special teams blunder.
It became the Malik Walker and Stone Smartt show late in the second quarter to give the Tigers brief momentum. Walker, the starting tailback, began the drive with a 15 yard run to set the pace. Smartt, the starting quarterback, followed with two completions to sophomore wide receiver Tyrone Marshall that equaled 24 yards.
Smartt then continued to survey in the pocket on the following play and locate freshman wide receiver Melquise Stovall for two completions totaling 19 yards, backed by a 35-yard bomb from Smartt to freshman wide receiver Jammal Houston to bust into Fullerton territory. Walker capped the drive with a three-yard rushing touchdown to pull within six leading into halftime.
After a stale start to the third quarter, the Tigers captured an edge that accompanied the lead. It was Walker who continued to push the ball down the field and eventually pounded his way into the end zone for his second score of the day.
Fullerton quickly regained the lead the following possession, but Riverside remained poised.
With 3:35 remaining in the third quarter, the Tigers continued to push the ball down the field. Once again, Riverside kicked off the drive with another big run. Freshman running back Eric Buchannon was responsible for the ground game spark on this occasion with a 11-yard scurry. After a couple of small gains on the ground from Smartt and Walker, sophomore wide receiver Antonio Mitchell graced the end zone on a five-yard pass from Smartt to mark his first-career touchdown.
Unfortunately, the extra point botched thus facing the Tigers with a one-point deficit.
The fourth quarter rolled around and the drama elevated. After a strong punt from Fullerton to put the Tigers on their own 28-yard line, Walker kicked off the drive with another strong opening carry of 11 yards. Smartt followed suit by completing a 16-yard laser to freshman wide receiver Tyler Kennedy.
Walker added another 11-yard scuttle followed by a four-yard rush, thus setting up a solid first and 10 on the Fullerton 28-yard line. Despite two-consecutive play for a loss, Smartt sealed the drive with a rushing touchdown that found him diving towards the nearside pylon for the score and a 33-28 lead.
Nevertheless, the Hornets charged down the field for a score and left just 1:33 second on the clock – too little time for the Tigers to claw the lead back and fell 34-33.
Walker rushed for over a bill for the second-straight game leading to 108 yards and two touchdowns on 17 attempts. Smartt paced the backfield with 21 carries leading to a touchdown.
Marshall helmed the aerial attack with six grabs totaling 81 yards. Stovall added four snags leading to 65 yards. Mitchell was the lone wide out with a score.
Smartt was efficient in the passing game. He went 16-for-24 with 232 yards through the air and a touchdown.
Sophomore defensive lineman Daryl French finished the contest with a game-high nine tackles, while sophomore linebacker Mitchell Agude earned four stops. Freshman defensive back Christian Swint tallied seven tackles and three break ups and sophomore defensive lineman Nicolas Figueroa recorded the lone sack for the defensive unit.
The Tigers (1-1) hit the road next Saturday, September 15 to face off against cross town rival San Bernardino Valley College (2-0) at 6 p.m.