Video by Adrian Gomez and Melvin Graham
Since Southwestern College was founded in 1961, the football team had never appeared in three consecutive bowl games.
SWC defeated the Santa Monica Corsairs, 40-23, in the American Division Championship Bowl for its third straight bowl victory.
With head coach Ed Carberry at the helm, the Jags have compiled a 29-4 record those three seasons, including this season’s 10-1 mark. Linebacker Blake Wilson was ecstatic.
“First time in the school’s history we’ve even been to three bowls in a row,” he said. “To win three in a row, it’s crazy.”
Trailing Santa Monica 23-21 in the fourth quarter, SWC faced first-and-goal from the seven-yard line. Quarterback Luis Perez lined up in the shotgun, flanked by running back Diego Rodriguez. Rodriguez took the handoff from Perez and sprinted towards the hole on the right side of the line, but Corsair linebacker Daveed Carter was waiting, leaving no room for Rodriguez to go around.
So Rodriguez jumped over him.
As Rodriguez hit the ground and ran into the end zone, DeVore Stadium exploded with energy and, though the two-point conversion failed, the Jags took a 27-23 lead with 13:46 remaining in the game.
Perez said the hurdle was a pivotal moment that shifted momentum to the Jags.
“That just shows you his athletic ability, to be able to jump over somebody in a split second,” he said. “These things aren’t planned out, these things happen in split seconds. I mean I’m not much of a runner, so when I see that I get really fired up. Incredible athlete, incredible worker.”
Rodriguez said he just reacted when the defender dove at his legs because he will not settle for a short gain.
“I’m a first down type of guy,” he said. “When I get the ball I’m trying to get either a first down or a touchdown. My goal is to run 10 yards every time I touch the ball. If there’s an opening, I’m going to try to get that touchdown.”
Rodriguez totaled 132 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries and was named American Bowl MVP.
Defensive end Mike Molina earned the Defensive Player of the Game award with eight tackles and two sacks.
“We had faith in our offense,” he said. “If we stop them, they’re gonna score. If they don’t, we’ll stop them again and give them another chance. But when the offense scores twice because of us, we’re stopping them, it gives us a little more push. It tells us we’ve got this in the bag.”
Santa Monica was penalized 12 times for 144 yards and had two first half touchdowns – a 99-yard fumble return and a 68-yard punt return– nullified. Corsair quarterback Steven Hamm was the Offensive Player of the Game and said the penalties were not to blame for the loss.
“It is frustrating, but it’s the game,” he said. “I mean, there’s penalties on both sides of the field, they had some big unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that hurt them and we had some big penalties, some blocks in the back and stuff, that hurt us. We should be able to bounce back from those penalties.”
Much like its first matchup with Santa Monica, a 52-27 blowout in September, SWC torched the Corsair defense for 560 yards. Unlike the first matchup, when the Jags piled up 333 rushing yards, the passing game stepped up with 363 yards. Perez threw for 290 yards while Israel “Tofi” Paopao passed for 73 yards. The pair rotated every two series to begin the game, but Perez dominated the second half snap count. Carberry said Perez gave the team the best chance to win.
“What we’ve told everybody is that we’re going to play the hottest guy,” he said. “I don’t care who it is, as long as somebody’s hot. Luis, he did a great job. He came through, made plays.”
SWC finished the season with California’s sixth best offense, scoring 42 points per game. Defensively, the team played a bend-but-don’t-break style, finishing 30th in yards allowed per game (369.9) but 14th in points allowed per game (23.6). Turnovers buoyed the defense, as its 21 interceptions were the fourth highest total in the state and its seven touchdowns were the third most. Three of those interceptions came against Santa Monica in the bowl game.
Despite their success, the Jags finished second in the American Mountain Conference to undefeated Victor Valley. Victor Valley beat SWC in October, but was banned from post-season play after a brawl in their season finale at San Diego Mesa.
Perez said he was shocked to learn that the Jags would be playing in the championship bowl, but quickly set his sights on making history.
“At first, somebody had posted something on social media,” he said. “Right away I texted Coach Carberry and he says ‘Yes!!!!’ with four exclamation marks. After that, I texted all the guys. It’s time to get a championship ring. It’s time to get three in a row.”
Perez also said SWC answered any questions about whether it deserved to take Victor Valley’s place.
“We had our foot on the pedal,” he said. “We just didn’t take it off.”