There are moments that live forever.
For the Gavilan College football team, its moment of nirvana came in a thrilling 61-55 overtime win over visiting West Hills-Coalinga on Saturday.
“It was crazy, just crazy,” said Rams quarterback Nate Ellis, who was simply masterful in completing 31-of-39 passes for 592 yards and five touchdowns. “The final score was just nuts, but we loved every minute of it. This type of game and atmosphere, it’s something you dream about playing in.”
Ellis hooked up with Jakari Johnson to deliver the game-winner, and it was a dagger. Facing a third-and-21 play from the West Hills 25-yard line, Ellis dropped back to pass only to see everyone covered down field.
That’s when the sophomore from Oregon saw Johnson cut off his route and come back to the middle of the field. Ellis hit Johnson at the 15 and Johnson did the rest, needing just to make one move to get to the end zone against a hapless Falcons defense that had somehow lost track of one of the most dangerous offensive talents in California Community College Football.
“I was looking deep on the final play, but saw my main go-to guy come back to me,” Ellis said. “Everyone was going deep and he stayed shallow.”
The Gavilan (2-3) defense, which didn’t put up much resistance for most of the game, delivered when it counted the most — near the end of regulation and in overtime.
Linebacker James Sanchez came up with a crucial interception on West Hills’ final offensive possession in the fourth quarter, then stopped the Falcons cold on their lone overtime series.
“Our defense is young, but they grew up a little bit tonight,” Rams coach Spencer Gilford said. “What you saw out there was a unit that continued to fight through adversity, and they showed a desire to finish.”
Indeed, Gavilan was able to survive a contest that could only be described as a video game on turf. The teams combined for 1,367 yards of total offense — a whopping 807 from Gavilan — to go along with 17 touchdowns and five lead changes in the fourth quarter alone in a game that lasted 3 hours, 17 minutes.
“Man, I think the last two games have aged me 15 years,” Gilford said, referring also to last week’s 33-29 win over College of the Redwoods.
Things looked bleak for the Rams early on, as they fell behind 13-0. The Falcons moved the ball at will, leaving the Gavilan defense in search for answers. But Ellis and Co. wouldn’t allow the Rams to lose.
Johnson and fellow wide receiver-tailback Donovan Weatherspoon dazzled onlookers with an array of moves in the open field that resulted in literally hundreds of yards after the catch.
Fittingly enough — to with downright amazing — the two finished with the same amount of receiving yards — 224 each — with Johnson hauling in 12 catches and Weatherspoon finishing with six receptions. Johnson also rushed for 99 yards on 13 carries, including an 82-yard TD run that accounted for Gavilan’s second score of the game.
Time and again, Weatherspoon showed why he’s one of the most dangerous players in the open field, as his last four receptions — two from simple shovel passes — went for 84, 40, 60 and 27 yards.
The Rams didn’t take their first lead until the 14:04 mark in the fourth quarter, when Ellis connected with a wide-open Johnathan Molina for a 10-yard TD to make it 42-41.
However, as was the case all game, West Hills answered on the next possession, starting a sequence that saw the lead change hands six times in the final quarter and overtime combined.
After losing its first three games, Gavilan will enter its bye week brimming with confidence, having pulled out two absolute nail-biters.
“We’re looking to win our conference championship,” Ellis said. “You look at some of our results, and we were beating ourselves. When we’re clicking, we’re a juggernaut that can’t be stopped.”