On October 21, 2016, on a beautiful fall night at the OC stadium, the Knights football team pulled off a stunning upset over the heavily favored Notre Dame Titans, 15-14. It was “Pink Out” night as the players and fans were adorned in pink to support our annual fight against breast cancer.
The Knights, unranked in Division 11, took the opening kickoff and surprised the Titans, top ranked in Division 9, by driving the length of the field before an unfortunate fumble stalled their drive at the Notre Dame 5 yard line. The confident Titans drove to their own 37 and, facing a 4th down and 5, decided a fake punt should earn them a first down. But the Knight defenders weren’t fooled as outside linebacker Justin Molina, inside linebacker Andrew Hernandez, and defensive end Clayton Dahl stopped the runner short after a 3 yard gain. Enjoying favorable field position, this time the Knights completed the task. Facing 4th and 10 at the Notre Dame 29, the drive was kept alive on a 12 yard pass from quarterback Kevin Jack to wide receiver Ian Ulloa. The drive was capped by a 17 yard touchdown catch and run by running back Blake Biby from Jack to put the Knights up, 7-0, to the delight of the pink OC faithful. Due to aggressive and sure tackling by the OC defense, the Knights kept the powerful Notre Dame offense out of the end zone throughout the first half. A key play in the half was a Titan fumble caused by defensive end Sean Halpin and recovered by defensive back Adrian Parada in Ontario Christian territory.
To open the second half, head coach Matt Hoekstra called for a surprise onside kick which was recovered by Justin Molina. But the drive stalled and a rejuvenated Titan offense took the field. Notre Dame scored twice in the third quarter to go up 12-7 as their two-point conversions were denied by the Knights special teams. Order appeared to be restored by the powerful Titan squad….but the Knights were resolute. Ontario Christian took the ensuing kickoff and drove the length of the field, aided by a key 11 yard pass play from Jack to Ulloa on third and 3 at midfield followed by huge 27 yard slashing run by running back Travis Struiksma to the Notre Dame 13. On the first play of the 4th quarter, the Knights completed the drive when Jack found Ulloa alone in the corner of the end zone for a 10 yard scoring pass. A key 2-point conversion run by Struiksma put the Knights up by three, 15-12, but there was nearly a full quarter to play. The Titans were not giving up. On the next series, Notre Dame drove to the Ontario Christian 25 and, facing 4th down and 3, decided to pound the ball and keep the drive alive. But middle linebacker Anthony Sagasta filled the hole and dropped the Notre Dame runner short of a first down. After a three and out for the Knights, Notre Dame got the ball back in Ontario Christian territory and were determined to retake the lead. This time the Titans’ drive stalled at the Knight 10 yard line and they opted to try to tie the score with a short 27 yard field goal. But the kick sailed wide right and the Knights still clung to a narrow lead. However, with the clock ticking down there were still more anxious moments for the OC crowd. After another 3 and out, Ontario Christian lined up to punt the ball away with barely a minute to play in the game. Alas, the ball was hiked over the punter, Moses Serrano, and into the end zone, but he alertly tapped the pigskin out of the end zone for a safety. The mishap proved to be a blessing in disguise as Travis Struiksma blasted the subsequent kickoff from the OC 20 a school record 67 yards to pin the Titans back in their own territory. In the final tense seconds, the Titans drove into Knight territory and with just 5 ticks on the clock at the Ontario Christian 38 yard line, the quarterback dropped back to pass. But defensive back Giovanni DeBonis pushed the receiver out of bounds at the 18 and bedlam followed as the Knights had accomplished an incredible upset!
Statistical leaders for the night were Travis Struiksma with 73 yards rushing against a very stingy Titan defense, Kevin Jack with 123 yards passing and 2 touchdowns, Blake Biby with 6 receptions for 32 yards and a touchdown and Ian Ulloa with 5 key receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. Needles to say, the OC defense was also a huge contributor to the victory, holding the Titan high-powered offense to just 2 touchdowns while pulling down a season high 78 tackles. Middle linebacker Anthony Sagasta led the Knights with 14 tackles including 9 solo tackles. Andrew Hernandez added a personal best 12 tackles, Adrian Parada had a season high 9 tackles, and linebacker Cameron Mooneyhan chipped in with 8 tackles including 7 solo tackles. Gio DeBonis totaled 7 tackles with 2 pass deflections and defensive tackle Joseph Pirro added 6 tackles and plugged up the interior line. Defensive end Clayton Dahl tallied 4 tackles and disrupted the line of scrimmage to the extent that the Titans ran nearly all their plays away from him, greatly changing their game plan. This “instant OC classic” was truly a game for the ages!