For a team that finished last season 3-7 and hasn’t attended a bowl game since 1992, the GCC football team has turned out to be the gridiron come-back kids.
Wrapping up 6-4 this season after winning six games in a row, the Vaqueros are headed to the Beach Bowl in Santa Monica Saturday.
“The achievement that this team has made has been rewarding considering this was a brand new football team,” said head coach John Cicuto, who was named WSC head coach of the year. “We had more sophomores that we had in the past, but a lot of them were transfers.”
Though predominately new, the team pulled out a six-game winning streak for the first time since 1992 following 52-17 and 34-23 losses against Pasadena and San Bernardino.
“Many teams may not have rebounded as quickly as we did,” Cicuto said. “For us to come off two straight losses and then to go on a six-game winning streak was a great achievement for us.”
The success of the team can be attributed to players who don’t get much attention – the offensive line.
“This is the best offensive line I’ve blocked with,” said tight end Oscar Giangrasso. They are guys who actually want to play, and take joy and have fun in blocking people and making people pay by running the ball down people’s throat.”
Behind the offensive line, the Vaquero offense rushed for 212.2 yards per game, led by freshman running back Kartrell Clayton, who had 915 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns.
“We’re real physical,” said offensive lineman Niles Rowland said. “As a unit we’ve been better than have been in the past few years.
“They might be the best performing offensive line we’ve had here in maybe 12 years,” Cicuto said. “They did a remarkable job, because each week as we got into our six-game winning streak we went to more of a run game than a pass game because we lost [Steve] Carballo. Each team we played was in the top three against the rush.”
When Carballo suffered a season ending knee injury in Glendale’s 34-16 win over Compton College on Oct. 20, the Vaqueros rushed for an average of 250 yards per game over their last four games of the season.
“When we lost one of our top players in Carballo in the Compton game, we had kids who stepped up, which was really good for us,” Cicuto said. “They filled each of his various roles on the team.”
Jonathan Overtruff took over the punting duties after Carballo’s injury, and averaged 40.4 yards per punt. Michael Bautista, who started alongside Carballo at wide receiver, took over the duties as the No. 1 receiver and finished the season with 27 catches, and two touchdown receptions. Kenny Garcia took over as the holder on the field goals, and extra points, and Wes Jones took over on kickoff, and punt returns.
“All of those guys performed well,” Cicuto said. “Had they not performed right after Steve got hurt we might not have one some of those games, because all of our game were close.”
The defense also came through this season. Last year, they allowed opponents to run for an average of 197.2 yards per game, but this year the average was down to 149.1 yards a game. Last season defense made only eight interceptions, while this year they had 14, led by linebacker Randy Beckman, who had three.
“We had more dedication this year,” defensive lineman Zack Acker said about the defense. “We know each better because we are sophomores now, and last year we had sophomores who didn’t really step up as leaders, and this year the sophomores stepped up as leaders and we came together.”
With finishing the season at 6-4, the Vaqueros qualified for the second annual U.S. Bank Beach Bowl against the Fullerton College Hornets at Santa Monica College on Saturday at 1 p.m. Fullerton also finished the season with a 6-4 record.