After four intense quarters of back-to-back touchdowns, the Dons narrowly fell to the Pasadena City College Lancers 28-21 at their first bowl game in four years.
The loss at Eddie West Field on Nov. 27 ended a record-breaking season during which the Dons, under new head coach Anthony White, won the American Metro Coach of the Year. SAC scored an average of 50 points per game and were undefeated in conference play. Santa Ana ended the season 7-4 overall.
Both teams were touch-and-go with scoring until the 3rd quarter. SAC defense gave up some easy plays which gave the Lancers the opportunity to capitalize over their mistakes. With less than 3 minutes left in the fourth quater the Dons had a few more plays with less than 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter but were not able to make it to the endzone.
“It was a little upsetting and was not what we were expecting but I am glad we were able to go forward as a team together,” said sophomore quarterback Cesar Ayala, who sprained his ankle after being sacked seven times at the SoCal Bowl.He was also recognized as the offensive player of the year.
After losing the first two games of the season, Santa Ana broke multiple long-held individual and team records, including most points scored, passes completed and longest pass play. Ayala also had 7 touchdown passes in two different games, breaking a previous record of 5 held by six different Dons.
With over 90 freshman recruits — and some athletes back on the field after a 17-month break — this year’s Dons started as strangers but emerged not only as a winning team but as a family.
“With coach White teaching us at a university level, he helps us and cares about us. He makes sure everyone helps their teammates on the field,” sophomore defensive linebacker Jalen Jones said.
The Dons had a slow start to the season when several athletes tested positive for COVID-19 right before fall training camp, resulting in its cancellation. After that, a scrimmage against Long Beach City College was cancelled for the same reason.
Starting quarterback, sophomore Luke Wilson, tore his ACL during game one against Moorpark College. Santa Ana lost 21-19. Ayala took over their second game against Mt. San Jacinto College, during which Santa Ana fell short 39-35 after a 19-point comeback with less than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“The first two games would have been fine if everything went according to the schedule,” said Jones.
Then, the record-breaking wins began.
Santa Ana broke four records, including a 100-year-old one for most points scored, at its first road game with an 83-0 win against Los Angeles Pierce College on Oct. 2. Quarterback Ayala made 7 touchdown passes. Sophomore wide receiver Arthur Shaw made the longest pass play at 98-yards. And freshman kicker Aaron Rojas scored 11 points, breaking the 1994 single-game record of 10.
On Oct. 9, Santa Ana next dominated the L.A. Valley College Monarchs 56-6 and showed offensive strength that would follow them all season. The Dons had 416 rushing yards while the Monarchs had only 125 and six turnovers.
Santa Ana’s offense held strong in an Oct. 30 matchup against Metro League rivals Orange Coast College, but it’s defense proved it can hold its own. To earn a 56-14 win, the Dons forced five turnovers and freshman defensive back Devyon Benton took over the field with a total of 134 yards, four tackles and a pass break up. Jones had 10 tackles and an interception himself. Mathew Galvan and Daylen Fuller had eight tackles each.
Santa Ana ended conference play Nov. 13, beating Glendale College 62-35.
White is continuing to use his network to recruit for the next season. He hopes to help the current athletes get to the next level and earn scholarships.
“I’m looking forward to what Santa Ana football is about to become,” White said.