The Hornets season ends in heartbreaking fashion

The Fullerton College Hornets lost to the Ventura College Pirates in the SoCal semifinals on a last second missed field goal, keeping FC out of an appearance in the SoCal championship game.
Hornet sophomore tight-end Cameron Woods hauls in a touchdown for the Hornets against the Pirates in the SCFA Semifinal matchup on Nov. 25, 2023.
Hornet sophomore tight-end Cameron Woods hauls in a touchdown for the Hornets against the Pirates in the SCFA Semifinal matchup on Nov. 25, 2023.
Matthew Gonzalez

A couple yards was the difference in the game. Special teams, the oft-forgotten unit of a football team, was the deciding factor in this game.

On Saturday, Nov. 25, the Fullerton Hornets lost 27-24 to the Ventura Pirates in the SoCal semifinals, showcasing how small the margin of defeat truly is.

The wind was blowing, and the feet were stomping as both sidelines awaited a game deciding 47-yard field goal. With 15 seconds left in the game, Pirates up 27-24, Fullerton kicker Jonathan Fobear bore the weight on his shoulders.

If he made this field goal, Fullerton would have capped off an incredible 69-yard comeback drive in under a minute and a half, forcing an overtime and a chance to still win and advance to the SoCal championship game.

The ball was snapped, and Fobear hit it clean. The stadium was quiet for a moment as a wave of heads slowly started to follow the path of the ball. “No-good” waved the refs. The kick had fallen short, just a couple yards from reaching the goal post. Fullerton had now lost 27-24, and their season was over.

After the game, there were numerous Hornet’s players crying or holding back tears. Groups of players hugged each other, consoling their teammates over the recent ending of their season.

Hornets’ sophomore running back Garnett Davis III looks to stiff arm Pirate freshman Zane Carter en route to a touchdown on Nov. 25, 2023. (Matthew Gonzalez)

Position coaches held intimate circles where they spoke to their players, telling them how proud of them they were and how hard they had fought.

“It’s definitely the most painful loss I’ve had to deal with in my career,” said Fullerton sophomore quarterback Brandon Nunez. “It sucks, sucks that I had to go out that way because I don’t think the better team won today, but they played better and that’s what matters.”

“This stuff hurts,” said Hornets defensive back Branson Tita-Nwa. “This is supposed to be our year.”

The Hornets had their back against the wall with two and a half minutes left. The Pirates were up 27-24 and had possession of the ball. It was 1st and 10 at Fullerton’s 49-yard line.

Fullerton’s defense had to muster a stop, if not now, never. Ventura running back Lamonte James carried the ball on 1st and 2nd down, gaining 9 yards.

Fullerton head coach Garrett Campbell then called a timeout, preparing his defense for a game deciding 3rd and 1.

The Pirates substituted in their short yardage quarterback Ezekiel Savage II, who previously ran for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter.

The Pirates called for a power run up the middle with Savage, who was met 2-yards behind the line of scrimmage by Hornet defenders Erik Hehl and Terence Hansborough Jr. The Hornets defense held strong, containing Ventura to a 4th and 3 and forcing them to punt at Fullerton’s 42-yard line.

Hornets defense comes up with a huge, 4th quarter stop on 3rd down against the Ventura Pirates during Saturday’s SCFA Semifinal matchup on Nov. 25, 2023. (Matthew Gonzalez)

“Championship games come down to the last 4 minutes,” said Campbell. “We got a great stop on defense, was using our timeouts, we forced them to punt.”

The momentous stop propelled the Fullerton crowd and sideline to pop with energy. Hornet defenders rejoiced and jogged proudly to the sideline, knowing they just gave the offense a chance to win, something the offense did exactly 2 weeks ago in their Southern Conference Championship victory over Riverside.

Ventura (8-3, 6-1) freshman punter Zane Carter was up next, walking up to punt like he was a baseball player walking to home plate.

Carter caught the long snap and punted quite literally the perfect ball. The ball flew in the air, spinning continuously until it landed on Fullerton’s one-yard line before going out of bounds.

The two sidelines could not have reacted so differently. The Hornet’s lowered their heads in disbelief as the Pirate’s roared and jumped up and down, understanding a stagnant Fullerton offense had to go 99-yards with 01:38 left and no timeouts in order to win in regulation.

At Fullerton’s goal line, Nunez threw 2 incompletions, resulting in a precarious 3rd and 10. On the next play, Hornets receiver Jordan Tate caught a 9-yard reception from Nunez before running out of bounds.

4th and 1, game on the line, Nunez ran up the middle for a huge 9-yard gain, keeping his team’s hopes alive.

With the clock ticking, Nunez connected with Hornets receiver Christian Steward for a 34-yard reception, spiking the ball as soon as the offense was ready. This unreal drive set up the 47-yard field goal that Fobear ultimately missed. Following a knee in victory formation from Ventura, the game ended with a Pirates win, 27-24.

Aside from the 2 missed field goals, the Hornets (10-1, 7-0) special teams unit played lights out. 2023 SCFA Southern Defensive Player of the Year Tita-Nwa single handedly stopped Ventura from scoring 4 points.

Not only did he have a game high of 19 tackles, Tita-Nwa blocked a Pirate’s PAT and field goal in the 2nd quarter, steering all the momentum towards Fullerton’s way.

The Hornets special teams extraordinaire did not stop with Tita-Nwa. Steward also returned three kickoffs to put the Hornets in great field position, leading his team with a 136 return yards, in addition to the 114 yards and touchdown he earned as a wide receiver on the day.

Sophomore wide receiver Christian Steward leaves Ventura defensive back Fakhir Stewart in the dust to score a Hornet touchdown at Sherbeck Field on Nov. 25, 2023. (Matthew Gonzalez)

“If you just stay on that right hash and just find a seam you just hit it, it’s always going to be there. And like Ventura’s kickoff team wasn’t really that good so you’re really just going to get an open seam every time,” said Steward.

Steward and the kickoff return unit were so dominant that the Pirates tried to kick away from Steward, in an attempt to keep him from catching the ball on kickoffs.

On Ventura’s side, James and his offensive line backpacked the team.

James rushed for a game high 195 yards along with two touchdowns, averaging seven yards per carry. James also led his team in receiving with 60 yards.

James’ stellar performance contributed for 62% of Ventura’s total offensive yards.

“It all starts up front with the offensive line,” said Ventura assistant coach Steve Staniland. “[James has] been doing it all year long.”

This loss was a first for this Hornets team. The team was undefeated before kickoff and expected to not only compete for but win the state championship.

Several impact players, such as Nunez, will not return next year. Campbell looks forward to helping transition his graduating players into their next phase.

“We want them to transform, as much as they’re hurt today, they’ll have a new life and they’ll have another opportunity at the next school they’re at,” said Campbell.

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About the Contributors
Brian Mack, Staff Reporter
Brian Mack is a first semester staff reporter for The Hornet newspaper. In his free time, he loves watching anime, sports, and playing video games. He also enjoys sneakers and reading comic books. His goal in journalism is to continue to learn and improve the various skills required in to be in the field.
Matthew Gonzalez, Staff Reporter
Matthew Gonzalez is a second semester staff reporter for The Hornet. Aside from being a staff reporter, he is also into sports photography. Matthew's passion in sports comes from watching and covering football, soccer, and basketball. During his free time he enjoys working out or listening to music. He is a huge Taylor Swift lover. Matthew plans on transferring to Cal State Northridge next fall to get a bachelors degree in Journalism.  His end goal is to work for a newspaper company.

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