Perfection is hard.
After their hopes for a perfect season ran dry on a trip to College of the Desert, the Jaguars football team responded with a resounding “Yes!” beating Mesa College and finishing the regular season 9-1.
Now they have a chance to win the American Division Championship Bowl.
Head coach Ed Carberry said he was not sure they would get the chance.
“It didn’t look like we were going to be playing in this game,” he said. “We’ve got another shot at our destiny here.”
Carberry said beating Mesa carried extra meaning.
“Everybody wants to beat their neighbor,” he said. “We’re the kings of the county.”
The Week 9 loss to College of the Desert could have been devastating to the Jags who, at 8-0, were off to their best start under Carberry, in his 10th season. It looked as though the Jags would walk through their league and easily win the title. Instead the loss put them at 3-1 and a three-way tie in league play. Carberry said there was a grieving process for the team.
“It demoralized everyone,” he said. “You might be 40 years old, banging on your steering wheel when you think about it. You take a day. Come Monday it’s back to work.”
Dean of Athletics Jim Spillers agreed.
“It‘s how you come away from a loss that makes all the difference,” he said. “I think for us it was a refocusing. Now they’re hungry. They’re ready to play for a championship.”
Resilience and focus have been a theme for the team all season.
In Week 6 SWC lost Ryan Stokes, the leading touchdown receiver in the conference, to a torn ACL. In the same game, defensive lineman Jaquille Bradford broke his foot, ending his season.
Both injuries would have brought down a lesser team, Carberry said, but players stepped in and took over. Ta’jon Mondy and Davin Reynolds on offense and Andrew Raffe and Alexis Quinones on defense have all excelled and kept the Jags rolling.
Carberry said the team has a next-man-up mentality.
“We’re a find-a-way-to-win team,” he said. “A lot of weird things happen, but it’s our responsibility to win, our responsibility to overcome every obstacle that’s there.”
Receiver Josh Pearman said improvement is non-negotiable.
“Our coaches really expect the best out of us,” he said. “They don’t let us be content or settle for what we’ve got. Just keep improving and improving.”
Now it comes to this, The American Division Championship. Jaguars will face the 10-0 L.A. Valley Monarchs, an offensive powerhouse. Spillers said the matchup between the top two teams in the American Southern division will be a battle.
“They will be an incredibly formidable foe,” he said. “It should be a whale of a game.”
Spillers said bowl games can bring a sense of pride for the entire campus and the 2016 team has done the school proud.
“To go 9-1 and be in a championship game is really special. It’s special for the program, but it’s also special for the college and the student body,” he said. “It’s Jaguar pride.”
History may be on SWC’s side when it takes on the Monarchs. The Jaguars have made it to the bowl games three out of the last four years, winning two championships.
All will be settled on the field. The American Division Championship Bowl takes place 6 p.m. Saturday at L.A. Valley College.