Pierce, despite letting another double-digit lead in the fourth quarter slip away, survived through two overtimes to defeat Mt. San Jacinto 37-34 in the Patriotic Bowl on Saturday at Tahquitz High School in Hemet, Calif.
Thoughts of being in a bowl game just a few weeks ago seemed impossible, after blowing a fourth quarter lead at Santa Monica College for one of their two losses of the season.
Their other loss on the season came early in the year when they lost to Mt. San Jacinto 44-30 on the road in the second game of the year
“Obviously, we wanted that rematch against them,” assistant head coach Jason Sabolic said. “We won this rematch because of watching film on what we did wrong the first time we played them.”
Pierce made the game closer because of self-inflicted wounds that they put on themselves, as they blew a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter.
“It was a disappointment to blow the lead, after dominating so much of the game both offensively and defensively,” said head coach Efrain Martinez.
Pierce had a special team miscue and an interception thrown to help start the rally of Mt. San Jacinto in the fourth.
“Our defense played great for three quarters, but the fourth quarter they were put into a bad situation,” Sabolic said. “They kept having to go back onto the field after stops they made, cause of our offensive and special team mistakes.”
Mt. San Jacinto scored 17 unanswered points, which included a 37-yard field goal make with one second on the clock, all occurred with less than 8 minutes in the game.
“Our defense played great throughout the game, so I wasn’t to worried about going into overtime,” said Martinez.
Both teams scored a touchdown on each of their possessions in the first overtime.
“Offensively we just felt good going into the over time, we weren’t going to lose this game after having the lead,” said Sabolic.
Mt. San Jacinto scored a field goal on their possession of the second overtime, setting Pierce up for either a touchdown for the win or a field goal to force a third overtime.
Josh Mathis scored a touchdown on a run of two yards to give Pierce the win in the second overtime.
“It was a great win for these players, they fought till the end and wanted to go out as winners,” said defensive coordinator Ty Greenwood.
This win gives Martinez and his coaching staff nine wins on the year, which is the most they’ve had since taking over in 2006.
“This win says a lot about were we are going as a program,” said Martinez.
Sabolic gives much of the credit for this victory to the arm of freshman quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns.
“He plays great for us every time he steps on the field to start,” Sabolic said. “The offense was just clicking, with our running game really helping out the passing game.”
Pierce had three different running backs carry the ball more than five times, with each of them having 30 yards rushing each.
“Those guys stepped up in a game where we needed them,” said Sabolic, who also is the running back coach. “We have been inconsistent in our running attack throughout the year, but we stuck through it all to end up here.”
Freshman receiver Jaelen Strong was the main target for many of Arbuckle’s completions, as he caught the ball 11 times for 115 yards.
Strong helped the Pierce passing game average over 400 yards, and average 38 points a game.
“Our offense has played great this year with Strong having big games whenever he was on the field,” said Martinez.
Sabolic hopes this nine-win season can be the momentum Pierce needs to go even farther next year.
“This year was a great win for all of us, having nine wins in a season is very impressive and great for the school,” Sabolic said. “Hopefully we can keep building on it into next year.”