Santa Rosa Junior College football team falls to Fresno City College in opener

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The Santa Rosa Junior College football team opened its nonconference season with a 35-17 loss to Fresno City College on Saturday evening in Santa Rosa.

Like all community college football teams, with every new season there are a lot of new faces on the roster, and this year is no different for Santa Rosa, which has 43 freshmen and only 26 sophomores.

“You can learn a lot from (this loss). We missed a lot of opportunities. We’re almost all freshman, our whole team, so in terms of game experience their first college snaps were tonight,” Santa Rosa head coach Lenny Wagner said. “I like our team. I’m just anxious to see them grow up.”

The Bear Cubs (0-1 overall, 0-0 Big 8) will host games at the neighboring Santa Rosa High School field for the second year in a row while their field undergoes construction.

The Bear Cubs were met by an offensive onslaught from Fresno in the first half and ultimately were unable to fight their way back despite a good performance from their backup quarterback late in the game.

The Rams (1-0 overall, 0-0 conference) started the game with a scoring drive that resulted in a short rushing touchdown for quarterback Jonah Johnson to take an early 7-0 advantage, a lead they would never relinquish.

The Bear Cubs countered with their own successful first drive, interchanging plays with a good mix of run and pass, and ended the drive with a 35-yard field goal from Keven Nguyen to shorten Fresno’s lead to 7-3.

After a defensive standoff and several stalled drives for both teams, the Rams were able to put together another good offensive series with less than two minutes left in the second quarter, and scored on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Michael Gates Jr.

With less than 30 seconds left in the first half, the Bear Cubs looked to punt with their backs up against their own end zone. But the Rams blocked the kick and immediately took advantage of good field position scoring on the following play with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Chris Brown.

Fresno led 21-3 at the half.

The Rams did not miss a beat and started the second half with another great drive, ripping off first downs one after another and four minutes into the third quarter had scored again. This time Fresno found the end zone on a short touchdown run from Marcus Washington to increase the lead to 28-3.

Early into the third quarter, the Bear Cubs’ Grayer left the game with an injury and they inserted freshman quarterback Will Heckman in his place.

“(Heckman) is a very good athlete and gives the defense a hard time when plays break down. Fortunately, Jhalen is OK and he could’ve come back in, but we let 14, Willie Heckman, finish the game and he was doing good and moved the ball for us and made some big plays,” Wagner said.

Although Santa Rosa mostly ran the ball with Heckman in the game, the Bear Cubs were finally able to drive down the field into their opponent’s territory. But they ultimately turned over the ball after failing to convert on fourth down.

Fresno scored again, this time with a drive culminating in Trey Maxwell’s 11-yard touchdown run to go up 35-3.

Santa Rosa and Heckman found some more success on their next offensive possession and were finally able to reach the end zone, finishing the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run from the quarterback.

In the final seconds of the game, Heckman completed a long pass to put the Bear Cubs back in enemy territory and finished the game with another short touchdown run of his own. But Fresno still walked away with the season-opening victory.

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