Preview: Riverside Football Reaches First State Title Game in 30 Years

Photo by Angel Pena
Photo by Angel Pena

In the eyes of the coaching staff and the players, it's just another game. Not much changes aside from the opponent and the game plan. The same outcome is desired. You play to win the game, as former New York Jets Head Coach Herm Edwards famously stated. But at the end of this game, the 2019 California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) State Championship game, one team will walk away with an undefeated state title and the other will head home with merely the experience.

It has been 30 years since the Tigers (12-0) have participated in and won a state championship. They look to add their second title to the trophy case this Saturday, December 14 at 1 p.m. against the North's undefeated College of San Mateo Bulldogs (12-0).

The game will be hosted by Bakersfield College at the newly renovated Memorial Stadium. Tickets can be bought online here or purchased at the gate. General admission is $12. Students, staff, faculty, 12 and under, seniors and veterans will be charged $8, per CCCAA regulations. No booster or organizational memberships will be accepted. If you are unable to attend, the game will be live streamed on SoCal Sports. CLICK HERE for the link.

It has been six years since two undefeated teams have met in the state title game. It last occurred in 2013 when undefeated Butte handed Fullerton their only loss of the season by the final score of 28-12. Both the Tigers and the Bulldogs have been the state's most dominant duo all season as they have each traded off top-rankings since the beginning of the season. They have earned the top rankings in the JC Athletic Bureau Coaches Poll, the CCCSIA Poll and the JC Gridiron Dirty30.

Riverside had been in the playoff mix since 2013, but had yet to reach the state title game until now. After losing five Southern California Football Association (SCFA) Championship games and one SCFA Semifinal game., the Tigers snapped the six-year skid with a commanding victory over third-seeded College of the Canyons, 68-21, for Head Coach Tom Craft's first Southern Regional Championship. In the semifinal round, Craft earned his 100th win, making him the only coach in community college history to win 100 games with two different community college teams. 

The Tigers have crushed teams throughout the season by averaging 51.2 points-per-game and 527.5 yards-per-game. They have held teams to a mere 16.8 points-per-game while not allowing more than 21 points in eight of their 12 wins. They blanked Mt. San Antonio in the SCFA Semifinal game, halted Fullerton to seven points and held Orange Coast to a lowly three points.

The closest game of the season was a win over the No. 16 Long Beach City College Vikings as freshman quarterback Jacob Barlage ignited a game-winning two-minute drill that ended with a freshman wide receiver Giovanni Sanders hauling in a game-clinching 13-yard touchdown pass. It was the second time Barlage was in a spot to seal the deal as he previously hammered the final nail in the coffin in a week two showdown against Fullerton. He closed out a drive that saw sophomore wide receiver Tyler Kennedy in the end zone for a 15-yard score.

The common denominator is clear – Barlage.

Barlage has earned his way to a starting role after previously sharing snaps with sophomore quarterback Mike Irwin. However, a week nine start proved that Barlage was the preferred gunslinger. Since his start, Barlage has thrown for over 300 yards and has tossed a total of 18 touchdowns while rushing for a pair. On the season, he has tossed 29 touchdowns and amassed an even 2,500 yards passing leading to a 69 percent completion percentage (178-for-258). His quarterback efficiency rating reads at 183.6 which is tops in the state. His 29 touchdown passes is fourth-best in the state as well.

Barlage has a deep arsenal of weapons with five wide receivers recording over 400 yards receiving and 24 or more receptions. The main weapon has been Sanders who has currently earned 54 receptions for 811 yards and eight touchdowns. He has averaged 4.5 receptions-per-game and 67.6 yards-per-game.  He has caught for over a bill on twice and has caught at least one touchdown pass in seven games. Freshman slot back Dylan Laurent follows with 51 grabs for 676 yards, while freshman Reggie Retzlaff has rose up for 37 catches and 502 yards. Freshman Isaiah Leeth has come on strong in the ladder half of the season after coming off of a four catch, 152-yard game that landed him in the end zone twice. He was named the SCFA Regional Championship Player of the Game.

The backfield is tattooed with size and speed with freshman Thomas Kinslow carrying the majority of the load. He has carted the rock 87 times for 616 yards and six touchdowns. His efforts are emphasized in a game where he rushed for 174 yards on 23 carries landing him in the end zone twice. Sophomore Jamon McGlory follows with 315 yards and five touchdowns on 47 touches, while freshman third-string quarterback Tyler Thomas exploded on the scene for 321 yards and three touchdowns after toting the rock just 34 times.

Defensively, the Tigers are among the best. They have recorded at least one turnover in 12-consecutive games, recorded one shutout, forced 34 turnovers (21 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries), scored four touchdowns and have held opponents to just over 16 points-per-game. Nine players have at least 25 tackles, nine players have notched at least one pick and 19 players have recorded at least one half of a sack.

Good luck.

Leading the brigade is sophomore linebacker and defensive captain Kobey Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, who was a staple in the middle last season, has followed up with another strong year. He has recorded a team-high 55 tackles with 25 of them acting as solo stops. He has two sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries on the year. He recorded a forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and scored a touchdown on in one play in the SCFA Championship game against College of the Canyons.

The linebacking core is supported by sophomore duo Kue Olotoa and Zechariah Holifield. Olotoa has recorded 43 tackles, while Holifield is just two behind with 41. They have combined for 2.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Freshman safety Shawn Dourseau has been a quarterback's nightmare in the secondary. Aside from ranking fourth on the team in tackles with 36 tackles, he has recorded a team-high six interceptions. His takeover mark ranks fifth in the state as well. Freshman corner Rey Estes follows with four interceptions, while freshman Kylen Ross follows with three.

San Mateo is a juggernaut of its own. Statistically, they have the strongest ranked defense in the state as seen in allowing 9.7 points-per-game. They have recoded seven defensive touchdowns, forced 29 turnovers and recorded 29 sacks. Sophomore Anuanu Tulono leads the team with 47 tackles and two sacks, while sophomore Maas Halaapiapi follows with 41 tackles and five sacks.

Offensively, freshman Luke Bottari leads the Bulldogs under center with 18 passing touchdowns, 2,039 passing yards and a 155.4 efficiency rating. His go-to weapon is sophomore wide receiver Terrel Carter. He has earned 46 receptions and 647 yards leading to six touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Jermain Jackson follow with 40 grabs for 571 yards and five touchdowns.