Hundreds of games have been played and thousands of players have come through American River College’s football program, and though they have had various successes over the years, no team has been able to call themselves NorCal Champions.
That is, until the last 44 seconds of Saturday’s game against Butte.
After 47 minutes of a slugfest in the mud, quarterback Griffin Dahn dropped back and threw a pass between two defenders to find wide receiver Torian Williams in the end zone, and just like that the Beavers completed their improbable comeback.
“From the start of the play, I knew something great was going to happen,” Williams said. “I felt like something great was going to happen today. I didn’t know if it was going to be me or not, but when I caught the ball, I couldn’t believe it myself.”
For the first time in the school’s history, American River College’s football team will have the chance to play for a state championship after overcoming a 9-0 deficit in the fourth quarter against rivals Butte College to win the NorCal Championship.
The Beavers played Butte on week nine of the regular season, throwing five interceptions in a 21-14 double overtime loss that cost ARC its number one ranking and its home field advantage.
American River entered the game as the number two seed after dispatching the third ranked Modesto on Nov. 19, 27-21. The first ranked Roadrunners defeated the number four ranked San Mateo to set up the title decider.
The game did not start off well for ARC as their first drive ended after only five plays when quarterback Griffin Dahn’s pass was intercepted by James Silva, which set up a nine-play, 65-yard drive which ended in a 35-yard field goal by kicker Israel Farfan that put the Roadrunners on top 3-0.
The Beavers had a dismal first half on the offensive side of the ball, only producing 31 yards of total offense and throwing two interceptions, while Butte added on a 35-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter after a defensive breakdown from ARC, to bring the game to 9-0 entering halftime.
Coach Jon Osterhout reflected on some of the adjustments the team made at halftime to give themselves a chance of winning the game.
“At halftime we had to make a couple of adjustments to the run defense,” Osterhout said. “The coaches did a fantastic job with this team the entire game. Offensively we just said, what do we have to do to win the game?”
Dahn also commented on the differences between the two halves, saying it was something the team has been familiar with throughout the season.
“Just look at the entirety of the year; it’s been the same way all year,” Dahn said. “We just keep fighting and we keep wearing down teams.”
“We always believe in our coaches and our mindset.”
The team still took some time to progress on offense in the third quarter, turning the ball over on downs twice and punting once, while the defense stepped up after the half time period, restricting Butte to under 50 yards for the remainder of the game.
Entering the fourth quarter and still needing two scores to get back in the game, ARC linebacker Patrick Walker stripped and recovered a fumble by Butte running back Alex Laurel to set up ARC just outside the redzone.
With 21 yards to go, Dahn and running back Dante Davis rushed for eight and seven yards respectively, setting up an 11-yard touchdown pass on third and goal from Dahn to wide receiver Damen Wheeler Jr. to close the gap to two points at 9-7.
After three straight possessions that ended in punts, ARC started their last drive on their own 20 yard line with 2:23 left in the game, with 80 yards separating them from a first ever NorCal Title.
Davis started the drive with a ten-yard rush to get the team to the 30, before two incompletions and a one-yard rush by Eddie Ortiz set up a fourth down situation.
With the season on the line, Dahn found Wheeler over the middle for a 21-yard gain to keep their hopes of the title alive.
After another completion to receiver Namani Parker, Dahn launched a 33-yard pass over the middle to receiver Lee Reed which would’ve put the team at the three yard line, but a holding penalty negated the play and backed the Beavers up ten yards.
On the very next play, ARC scored the game-winning touchdown.
After a successful two-point conversion attempt by Ortiz, the Beavers held a 15-9 lead with 42 seconds remaining after a kickoff return by Butte to their own 32 yard line.
As the Roadrunners had all of their timeouts remaining, ARC would have to stop them four times in order to win the game.
Two incomplete passes from Butte quarterback Craig Contreras and a sack by linebacker Anthony Luke left the Roadrunners looking at a potential fourth and 24 situation, but a defensive holding penalty by American River pushed Butte up 10 yards and negated the sack.
Unfortunately for Butte, the penalty was not enough as two more incomplete passes gave the ball back to ARC and with it, the NorCal Championship.
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After the victory, Osterhout spoke on some of the emotions that were running through him.
“My heart won’t stop beating. I’m just so happy for this football team. It’s truly incredible, it’s been a long journey,” Osterhout said. “The kids have worked their tails off, the coaches have worked their tails off.
“Our offseason plan we identified last year was ‘how do we go from good to great?’ And now we have one more step to become a great team that will go down in history for American River College football.”
Luke said that the feeling was great and that the key to winning this game was belief in the team.
“I still feel like I’m in a dream right now. We’re going to a state championship and that’s all I can think about,” Luke said. “We just believed. We never flinch. We were down 9-0 in the fourth quarter and I just kept believing in my team. Execution is a commodity.”
Dahn said that while the win feels good, there is still unfinished business.
“I feel great. I feel like we’ve almost accomplished everything we wanted, but we’ve got one more game to go,” Dahn said.
For the first time, ARC will now have the opportunity to play for the state championship in two weeks against SoCal champions Fullerton College, who defeated Riverside on Saturday 45-29 and are currently 11-1.
Dahn spoke of the upcoming championship game, saying that if they continue to improve, they have a chance to win.
“We need to keep getting better,” Dahn said. “Nobody can stop us but ourselves. I think we can come out with the state championship.”
Osterhout also talked about the team’s philosophy in “Beaver Ball” and how that will not change for this next game.
“We’re going to continue to stay process based and play ‘Beaver Ball.’ Guys are wearing the t-shirts here today. It’s about commitment and building your resume,” Osterhout said. “Nobody works harder than us and we have relentless consistency and if we continue to do that, then we’ll have a shot to win a state title which would be historic for American River College.”
The Beavers will travel down to Fullerton on Dec. 10 to play for the CCCAA State Championship.