Making its first bowl game appearance in six years, the Allan Hancock College football could not stop dual-threat quarterback Demonte Morris and the Jaguar offense in a 35-14 loss to Southwestern in the American Championship Bowl at Santa Maria High School on Saturday. The Bulldogs, who won their first outright conference championship in 20 years this year, finished the season 8-3. Southwestern, making its third appearance in the American Championship Bowl in the last four years, improved to 9-2.
The game that pitted two of the state's top defenses lived up to the hype early. Hancock sophomore Connor Epley blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt by Alexander Nixon on Southwestern's opening drive. Hancock's Osa Omokaro forced a fumble later in the first that Lenny Roundtree, Jr. recovered at the Southwest 19-yard line. Hancock tried to convert it into three points, but Jordan Pollard's 29-yard field goal missed wide right to keep the game scoreless to start the second quarter. The Southwestern defense held Hancock to zero first downs in the first quarter.
The Jaguars found the end zone early in the second quarter when Isaiah Strayhorn ran it in from four yards out to give Southwestern the lead 7-0 with 12:41 to play in the first half. Hancock's offense started to click in the second quarter as Jimmy Kelleher connected with Dominic Chance for a 21-yard gain. Two plays later, Kelleher's pass intended for Nick Kimball was picked off by Jalen Nelson. Fortunately for Hancock, Alexander Nixon's 33-yard field goal attempt was short to keep it a 7-0 game. The Bulldogs' next possession ended with an interception by Ricky Barfield who stepped in front of a pass intended for Michael Ferraro. Seven plays later, Morris ran it in from four yards out to give Southwestern a 14-0 lead. Hancock marched down to the Southwestern 27-yard line with seconds remaining in the half, but Pollard's 45-yard field goal was blocked by the Jaguars, who carried a 14-0 lead into halftime.
The Bulldogs got on the board in the third quarter with an eight-play, 80-yard drive. Freshman Isaac Bausley broke several tackles and ran in a 37-yard touchdown to pull the Bulldogs to within 14-7 with 6:37 to play in the third quarter. Southwestern responded with a scoring drive of its own as Morris ran it in from 20 yards out to push the lead back to 21-7 with less than two minutes to play in the quarter. Southwestern's special teams answered the call again on Hancock's next drive as Pollard's punt was blocked by Shaquez Bond and recovered by Ricky Barfield, who took off for a 25-yard touchdown to give Southwestern a 28-7 lead after three quarters.
The Bulldogs cashed in a second fumble forced by Omokaro and recovered by linebacker Basiru Jobe in the fourth quarter. Kelleher found Chance near the back of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown to cap a 10-play, 45-yard drive to pull the Bulldogs to within 28-14 with less than seven minutes to play.
The Jaguars sealed it with a touchdown on their next drive – a 29-yard touchdown run by Strayhorn to run the score to 35-14.
Morris finished the game 10-for-15 passing for 98 yards. He also ran for 91 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns. Strayhorn rushed for 129 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. Southwestern finished with 353 yards of total offense, 255 on the ground and 98 in the air.
Hancock racked up 312 yards of total offense, 189 on the ground. Bausley led the Bulldogs with 63 yards on eight carries and one touchdown. Damon Whitmill, Jr. finished with 52 yards on 12 carries. Kelleher threw for 123 yards by completing 10 of his 21 passes. He threw one touchdown and two picks. Markese Jackson and Ferraro caught three passes each. Chance had two receptions for 26 yards, including a touchdown.
Defensively, Jobe led the Bulldogs with 14 tackles and one fumble recovery. JD Smith tallied 13 tackles, while Epley had 11 tackles. Omokaro finished with seven tackles, including six for lost yardage, one sack and forced two fumbles. The sophomore was named Hancock's Player of the Game.
The Bulldogs made their 17th appearance in a bowl game and eighth under head coach Kris Dutra. The Bulldogs dropped to 4-13 all-time in bowl games.