LANCASTER — Hancock College football players chest-bumped each other and did celebratory back flips in the high desert Saturday night after this one was over.
The Bulldogs earned a hard-fought 21-7 win over Antelope Valley College in a Pacific League showdown for first place at AVC. Hancock, which is ranked 21st in the state, moved to 7-2, 4-0 with its fourth straight win. The Marauders are 5-4, 3-1.
If Hancock defeats Citrus College at home next Saturday in a regular season finale, the Bulldogs will clinch their first outright league title since 1997. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Hancock, but according to a school-issued press release the start time might be moved up to 1 p.m.
As it is, the Bulldogs have clinched at least a share of the league championship. If Hancock and Antelope Valley College tie for first place, the Bulldogs will have the top league seed for bowl consideration.
Hancock defensive tackle Parker Burnett set up Bulldogs' quarterback Jimmy Kelleher's sneak for the winning touchdown when he recovered a Marauders' fumble at the AVC 21 in the third quarter.
Kelleher bulled in from about an inch away for the winning score.
AVC quarterback Armani Edden led the league in touchdown passes, 16, going in and he connected with John Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter for the first score of the game.
Issac Bausley led Hancock's rushers with 90 yards and he answered with the tying touchdown from 10 yards out later in the quarter.
The halftime score was 7-7. Both teams missed chances to score from inside the other teams' 10 in the second quarter. The Bulldogs blocked a field goal try, and Hancock's Jordan Pollard missed from 26 yards out as time ran out in the first half.
With the Marauders trailing 14-7 and out of time outs late in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs went for it on fourth-and-six from the AVC 31. Kelleher rolled out and connected with Dominic Chance. Chance broke a tackle and went into the end zone for the last touchdown.
The game was a complete turnaround from Hancock's 44-34 win at Los Angeles Pierce College the week before. In that one, the Bulldogs prevailed even though the Brahmas out-gained them 541-381 as both defenses struggled to stop anything.
In this one, both offenses struggled to get first downs. Basiru Jobe is Hancock's leading tackler, and he was all over the field making plays Saturday night.
Connor Eppley has been one of Hancock's best pass rushers, and he helped Hancock sacks leader Osa Omokaro consistently put heat on Edden. Omokaro was injured on AVC's last play of the game. The extent of his injury was unknown at press time.
With the Marauders down 14-7 and trying to mount a last-ditch drive, Hancock linebacker JD Smith smashed into Edden on a fourth-down blitz, and the Bulldogs took over on downs at their own 49. Kelleher connected with Chance for the score five plays later.
D.J. Payne is third in the league in rushing and, patiently waiting for holes, to develop, he had success early running the ball against the Bulldogs.
Hancock shut down just about everything the Marauders tried after intermission. Unofficially, the Marauders had four first downs in the second half.