By Dan Gudino
The football team showed resilience in a 26-21 comeback victory on the road last Saturday against Santa Ana College.
East Los Angeles College trailed throughout the majority of the first game in the inaugural season of the American Metro Conference.
ELAC’s sophomore running back Shaq Shelton split through the middle of the Santa Ana defense and carried the ball eight yards to give the Huskies the winning score in the last minute of the game.
“Namone (Mayes) got up slow after a play, and coach asked if I was ready. I said, ‘Of course.’ They needed me, and I responded. I was asked to run like it was my last run ever, and I did. I ran like it was my last play ever,” Shelton said.
Shelton, the usual starter and leading rusher of the Huskies, did not play the entire first half of the game.
ELAC was thin at the running back postion, losing four running backs in two games. Shelton was listed as the emergency running back going into Santa Ana Stadium, as he was recovering from a shoulder injury.
Sophomore running backs Mayes (shoulder) and Josh Flores (ankle) went down in the second half, and Shelton was put in the game.
Prior to the game, Shelton said he was limited and might be used as a decoy to throw the defense off.
“It was all hands on deck. In a game like this, everyone has to contribute. We started slow, too slow. In crunch time we had to play all our guys. We had guys who jumped in willingly and we finished the ballgame,” ELAC head coach Bobby Godinez said.
Through adversity, the ELAC defense kept Santa Ana in check. ELAC sophomore quarterback Jonathan Santos threw four interceptions that kept the Husky defense out on the field for long periods of time.
The Husky defense stood its ground for three quarters and did not allow any points in the second half. All three Santa Ana touchdowns came in the first quarter.
“This was a team win. We start slow, but we will always bounce back. That’s what we do best. Our attitude is no one could score on us. It’s all about communicating on the field, and that’s what we did,” sophomore defensive lineman Imani Mitchell said.
The Huskies special teams unit had a day as they blocked two punts, the first coming in the second quarter by defensive lineman Sione Vea, and the second happening in the third quarter by freshman special teamer Branded Peterson.
Sophomore wide receiver Cemaj Douglas returned a punt 44 yards for an ELAC touchdown to put the game within reach at 21-19. The return was one of the most exciting plays of the game and put the Huskies within reach in the third quarter.
The Huskies kept the ball in the air with the pass game. Santos nearly broke the school record for most pass attempts in a game (71). Santos threw 61 times, completing 31 passes for 361 yards with two TDs and four interceptions.
“They made us more one-dimensional. More than what I would like. You never want to throw the ball sixty times. Santa Ana did a great job of dictating us to pass. I had no idea (Santos) threw that much. Give Santos a lot of credit. He dug deep down and finished, even though it was not one of his better games,” Godinez said.
The Huskies crawled back into the contest down 21-0. Santos continued the success of last week with consecutive TD passes to sophomore tight end CeeJhay French-Love starting in the first quarter. French-Love used his size to an advantage and controls his body like a smaller player.
In the first quarter, Santos fired to the 6-foot-5 French-Love down the sideline in the end zone. French-Love twisted his body, bobbled the ball while staying inbounds, only to regain control of the ball with a tip-toe TD.
The momentum then shifted to ELAC for the majority of the game.
Game two of conference play continues on the road at El Camino Compton-Center on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“We need to pick it up in practice to avoid starting so slow. Practice like it’s game day, then we’ll play better. I believe in our defense. So, when the offense struggles early, we got them. We know (the offense) will come back,” ELAC freshman cornerback Sherrod Crayton said.
Crayton had an interception to help ELAC finish out the first half.
With the win, ELAC is now the No. 7 team under the Southern California – American Division in the California Community College Regional State Football Poll, tied with rival Pasadena City College. This is the first time ELAC has been ranked within a top 10 list since 2011.