Dawn of a dynasty: Corsair football wins third straight conference title
As the clock winded down and the Gatorade showers flowed, as the entire team surrounded him, Gifford Lindheim couldn’t help but celebrate as he and his players danced and jumped into each other's arms in a scene that would have put the Red Sox World Series celebration to shame. In their last road game of the season, the Santa Monica College football team traveled to Los Angeles Pierce College Saturday night, pulling out a 36-13 victory that had major implications for the Pacific Conference title.
“I’m so proud of our team," Lindheim said. "If you would have watched us in week one and see where we are now, a championship team — each one of these guys has really grown and collectively we’ve gotten a lot better. We’re champions."
Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Corsairs found themselves up 10 with only 50 yards between them and victory, and one touchdown away from placing themselves in the driver's seat for the conference championship.
As the LA Pierce players dug in their heels, Corsair left tackle Maurquice Shikir caught a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage and before the Brahmas knew what hit them, he unleashed a perfect bomb down the left side to wide receiver Deontay Banks.
“That was my first touchdown ever in my life," Shikir said. "I figured they would call the play that drive; it felt like the timing was perfect. We were up 10, I knew it was going to happen. We’ve been working on it since week three, but we just never found the right time to do it. When I saw him open, all I thought was, throw it.”
After the game, Corsair head coach Gifford Lindheim revealed that the play had been in the works for quite some time.
“We’ve had it in the bank for about six or seven weeks," Lindheim said. "I’ve shook it off a couple times, but tonight I gave it the green light. It was drawn up by our offensive coordinator."
Also playing a huge role in Saturday night’s victory was wide receiver Anthony Okray. With less than a minute to go in the first half, Okray connected with quarterback Jerry McConnico on a catch and throw to the corner of the end zone resulting in a touchdown and a three point lead.
“It’s so important; it gives the team hope," said Okray. "I think we were in third and long, so that put us in position and gave us the momentum. I’ve known Jerry the longest, so we’ve always had that connection, but throughout the season we’ve been getting better and better. I’m basically his go to guy.”
Okray’s biggest contribution might have come early in the fourth quarter after wrestling a deep jump ball away from his defender in Brahmas territory. Not only did the catch set up an eventual McConnico rushing touchdown, but it also pushed the Corsair lead from three to 10 with less than a quarter to go.
“I think he made three catches that should go on his highlight film; he was amazing," Lindheim said of Okray. "He just wouldn’t be denied, and we knew if we threw the ball to him, either he was going to come down with it, or nobody was.”
Once again the Corsair defense put their stamp on the game just as they have the entire season. Not only did they shut out the Brahmas in the second half, but they took all the pressure off the offense as they held LA Pierce to an endless string of three and outs.
“Our defense has been lights out. In the last three weeks before this game, the first team had not given up a touchdown," said Lindheim. "Pierce is a high-powered offense, but we have been able to build this defense, and we were ready for the challenge.”
The Corsairs defense also added a huge interception late in the fourth quarter, courtesy of defensive back Tyler Hasty. Also joining the party were the special teams who recovered a fumbled punt halfway through the fourth quarter, setting up a much needed field goal.
If there’s one trait the Corsairs have shown above all this season, it’s their ability to dig deep when things aren’t looking good and find the will to win. There have been multiple times this season when the games could have gone either way, and time and time again, the Corsairs have found a way to win.
“It’s a winning culture that we’ve developed," said Lindheim. "We’ve won 19 straight conference games and three straight conference championships. We have a winning culture, but we never dwell on the past. We’re always working toward the future and developing guys."
The Corsairs will play their last game of the season this Saturday at Corsair Stadium, as they take on the Antelope Valley College Marauders at 1 p.m. SMC will hold the conference title regardless of the outcome of the final game of the season.