Volume 134, Issue 6
Once Invincible Rams Play Catch-Up to Slip Past Panthers 31-22
Rams overcome 16-point deficit to keep bowl game hopes alive
It was a heart-breaking loss for the Panthers, who had a 16-0 lead with 2:32 left in the first half. The Rams bounced back quickly with a field goal and a touchdown in less than 20 seconds, cutting the lead to a 16-10 at halftime.
"It is hard to come back, especially from 16-0," said Rams coach George Rush.
The Rams did not have a good start, playing poorly in the first quarter. The Pan-thers took advantage of the Rams' lethargic play and put themselves on the board early in the game. Panthers quarterback Emiliano Sa-lazar threw an 11-yard pass to wide receiver Phil Goodman on the left side, putting the Panthers in scoring position on the two-yard line.
On the ensuing play, running back Antuan Carter sneaked two-yards to score the first touchdown of the game, giving the Panthers a 6-0 lead with 10:30 left in the first quarter. The extra-point attempt by kicker Dixon Allen was blocked so the score remained at 6-0.
The national champs couldn't manage to react and things worsened when running back Tim Brown fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Panthers' defensive back Melvin Dixon on Sa-cramento's 31-yard line with 4:06 left in the first quarter.
Then, the Panthers crossed the entire field in less than two minutes Running back Carter rumbled for a 26-yard gained on a quick run and receiver Lawrence Bady caught a nine-yard pass from Salazar, putting the home team on the Rams' 24-yard line.
Then, the Panthers just needed one play to score on a 24-yard pass from Salazar to wide receiver Goodman with 1:30 left. This time, the point after touchdown was good and the Panthers increased their lead to 13-0.
The Rams' seemingly lifeless play continued in the beginning of the second quarter with quarterback Swanson being sacked twice. The Rams had to punt again.
The Panthers started a drive that lasted nearly six minutes and ended up with a field goal. The Rams couldn't stop the Panthers running game, as well as the perfectly executed passes from Salazar to Goodman. The Panthers completed the drive converting on two fourth down plays that eventually set them up for a 35-yard field goal. Kicker Allen booted a perfect high shot that put the Panthers up by 16 points with 8:48 left in the second quarter.
But, the story of this game changed on the first play after the punt return. Only 20 seconds after getting the first points on the board, Rams' defensive back Bret Jones recovered a fumble and marched 33 yards towards the end zone. The Rams had its first TD of the game and they quickly gained some momentum back.
The score at halftime read Panthers 16, Rams 10.
Rams' Tim Brown opened the second half with a seven-yard run touchdown putting the Rams up for the first time in the game 17-16 after the extra point conversion with 12:01 left in the third quarter.
"I knew we would step up. I just had to make my runs," said Brown.
The Rams proved to be the national champs when they finally showed some good football, playing aggressively on defense and executing the plays offensively.
Later in the quarter, Swanson threw a 21-yard pass to wide receive Deqawn Mobley to increase the lead to 24-16 with 6:33 remaining in the third quarter. Then the Panthers completely lost control of the game, giving up a turnover that would eventually lead to a Rams TD.
Rams' running back Jihad Mahasin sprinted 24 yards to put the game away with 53 seconds left in the third quarter. The Rams led 31-16.
But the Rams hung in the remaining minutes to secure the win and keep their bowl game hopes alive.
"I am so proud of how you guys played today," said a relieved coach Rush.
He added: "It's tough to come back when we go down so fast, but they played hard and they worked hard. I see a lot of improvement on this team. We just need to improve a little bit more and they (Rams players) are doing all it takes to make a great football team."
"I felt a little bit of pressure but I knew we would go and make it. Our hopes didn't go down because we never gave up. The defense stepped up in the second half and I just hold down the ball," said running back Brown, who finished the game with one more touchdown.
The Panthers were certainly disappointed with the final score. "We gave up crucial turnovers and against the national champs we can't do it. We've got a lot of young guys on the team and they play in key positions," said receiver Goodman, who had two TD.
He added: "We came out and played a good game but in a high caliber game we've got to execute in all positions."
Now the Rams head north to Oroville to play the undefeated Butte College Roadrunners on Nov.23 at 1 p.m. The winner of this game will probably clinch the Norcal conference title and play the Northern California final against the winner of Fresno and Reedley.