Brandon Pickens came off the bench to direct the Gavilan College Rams to a tying touchdown in the closing 21 seconds, but Yuba prevailed in overtime 17-14 in the season opener on the 49ers’ turf Saturday night.
The Rams produced a 307-163 edge in total offense to go along with a 19-10 showing in first downs. Yuba responded to a 7-0 deficit by halftime to take advantage of three turnovers and better results in the kicking game.
“There’s a lot to build on,” Rams Coach Spencer Gilford said of the team’s showing. “Our defense played well (four sacks and eight other tackles for loss). We missed some opportunities with either turnovers or good field position. It showed that it was our first game.”
Ted Hoal, Yuba’s head coach, conceded that “special teams made the difference. We’re both rebuilding, both playing many young players. I loved the effort from both sides.”
Gavilan, though dominant in the first half, went to the intermission with a one-touchdown lead.
The Rams utilized an effective running game to produce a 16-play march covering 86 yards in the first quarter.
Sophomore Nate Ellis directed the Rams for the team’s first two series. On the second series, Gavilan ran the ball on the first 10 plays, four different players earning a first down. When faced with a second and 15 on the Yuba 40, sophomore stalwart Jakari Johnson carried for 12 and 11 yards on consecutive plays to reach the 17. Facing third and seven at the 14, Ellis lofted a swing pass to Johnson, who side-stepped a potential tackle by cornerback Antonio Stukey before crossing the goal line untouched with 40.4 seconds to go in the quarter. Seth Holcomb’s successful PAT ended the scoring for the half.
The 49ers took possession on their own 40 yard line after a 16-yard Ram punt, but the hosts came away empty when kicker Braaten Sill missed a 44-yard field goal.
Gavilan gave Yuba good field position after a 14-yard punt with 3:20 gone in the third quarter. Yuba quarterback Luke Stephens went 3 for 4 on the four-play, 38-yard march to a tying TD. Tight end DaTwon Melvin caught a nine-yard slant pass for the touchdown with 10:37 to go in the third quarter.
Yuba took the lead on a two-play, 18-yard march late in the third quarter. The Rams gave up the ball when a lateral was dropped at the 18 and recovered by Yuba. Elbert Shannon, limited to 40 yards on 17 rushes for the hosts, broke free for a 13-yard jaunt to paydirt and a 14-7 Yuba cushion.
Pickens, pressed into extra duty when Ellis was sidelined with an injury late in the second quarter, directed a 13-play drive covering 94 yards in the closing 4:06 of regulation. The Rams faced only one third down situation and Pickens solved that third and 10 issue with a roll-out play and spiral to Mike Deans-Merson to the Ram 35.
A 12-yard completion to Deans-Merson pushed the Rams to midfield with 2:13 left. Halfback Dexter Braziel, who started the drive with a 15-yard scamper, ran a counter for 12 yards to Yuba’s 38. Pickens signaled wide-out Jesse Barker to slip behind the defense before directing a 33-yarder to the Yuba five with 58 second left. After Pickens tossed to Domonic Cozart for a four-yarder, Pickens rolled out and found the right front pylon for the TD . Holcomb came through with the PAT kick to send the game into overtime.
Gavilan had the ball first in OT, losing three yards on three plays before Holcomb’s 45-yard field goal try came up short. Yuba reached the Ram seven on a Stephens 12-yard strike to Melvin before Sill drilled the winning field goal from 27 yards out.
Johnson, after 67 yards on the ground in the first half, finished with 68 yards rushing along with three catches for 20 yards. Barker finished with five catches for 71 yards. Jerome Brooks had Gavilan’s lone interception. In limited play, Ellis went 4 for 9 for 31 yards, while Pickens finished 14 for 26 for 138 yards.
The Rams open the home portion of the 10-game schedule Saturday at 1 p.m. at Garcia-Elder Sports Complex against Shasta College.