Video by Paul Bandong, JP Raineri & Chauncy Miller
Chaparral kicker John Baron easily split the uprights on a 46-yard field goal to give Riverside County All-Stars a 31-28 overtime victory over the San Bernardino All-Stars last Saturday night at Corona High School.
It was the 29th year of the SPORT Foundation Inland Empire All-Star Football Classic. Riverside County came into this game with a 9-6 advantage, riding a three-game win streak, including holding San Bernardino County without a touchdown in the past two years. This year, it was different.
Coach Ron Gueringer of San Gorgonio High School (12-1 with a one-point loss to Norte Vista in CIF-SS Semifinals) had high expectations for his group of all-stars from San Bernardino, saying “We’ve only had six practices, so we’re going to keep it simple and let our kids play and make plays. We didn’t come here to lose. We will compete and this will be a good game.” And indeed it was.
San Bernardino scored on their opening drive as San Gorgonio QB Tahir Rasheed Mills (1765 yds and 20 TD’s on the season) hit Yucaipa wide receiver Brandon Scott (1,260 receiving yards and 12 TD’s on the season) for a 40-yd touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead.
Riverside County also scored on their first possession as Roosevelt’s Joseph Muriel (2700 yds and 35 TD’s on the season) air-mailed a 55-yd touchdown pass to West Valley’s Elijah Brown (1288 receiving yds, 11 TD’s this year) to tie the game.
Rasheed-Mills’ 58-yd QB keeper set up San Bernardino’s second score on their second possession, which Rialto Carter’s Ben Fitzpatrick (995 rushing yds , 11 TD’s this year) took into the end zone on a fourth-and-one try.
Riverside County answered with two scores: capping drives with five-yard TD runs by Rancho Verde’s Keshaun Slaughter (Inland Valley League Co-MVP, All-CIF) and Limahai Hifo (Sunbelt League MVP).
Chino Hills QB Daniel Martinez played most of the second quarter for San Bernardino, but Rasheed-Mills came into the game in the final 1:36 with the ball on their own seven-yard line. He engineered a 93-yard drive, taking it in himself from three yards out to tie the game at 21 at halftime.
Both defenses stiffened in the third quarter, forcing multiple punts by both offenses. Serrano’s defensive end Grant Coonce recovered a rare Hifo fumble at midfield at the beginning of the final period. It only took San Bernardino four plays to convert the turnover into a score. Rasheed-Mills pitched the option to Etiwanda’s Tacory Spencer (961 yds, 8 TD’s this year) for a four-yard score and a 28-21 lead.
Nine plays, six minutes and seventy-five yards later, Muriel scored for Riverside on a QB sneak to tie the game with 4:26 left in the game.
Riverside had another opportunity to score in the final two minutes driving the ball inside the five-yard line with seconds left in regulation; on first-and-goal from the three, they opted to go for the touchdown instead of the field goal. Paloma Valley QB Brent Boehm (2400 yds, 35 TD’s passing; 575 yds and six TD’s rushing) ended up scrambling on a well-covered pass play and was stopped just short of the goal line to end the game at a 28-28 tie. It was only the second time in All-Star history the game has ended in a tie.
San Bernardino had first shot in overtime and drove inside the ten. Heritage linebacker Sione Sakitaki (Sunbelt League Defensive MVP) intercepted Rasheed-Mills’ pass at the two-yard line to give Riverside possession. “I heard someone say ‘slant’ so I hung back letting them think it was open,” said Takitaki, “Then I jumped the route to make the interception.”
The Riverside County offense took over, but was unable to punch it into the end zone. Baron, who is bound for San Diego State, was successful earlier on a fifty-yard field goal attempt that was negated by penalty; he calmly kicked the game-ending score to send the Riverside team and crowd into a frenzy.
“The kids had great attitudes all week,” said Riverside County head coach Dennis Brown (Riverside Poly), “They’re great players individually, but came together as a team and believed in each other. When they had to make a play, they made a play. John [Baron] ended up kicking a game winner in overtime – it was just a lot of fun!”
San Jose State-bound Hifo was named MVP of the All-Star game. He carried twenty times, breaking numerous tackles, for 140 yards. “It was a close game; I’m glad we came out with a “W”, said Hifo, “All credit to the coaching staff, the “O’ line and all glory to GOD.”
Riverside County’s Muriel threw for 90 yards and a TD in addition to his rushing touchdown. North’s Chris Carter had two sacks while Temescal Canyon defensive back Jacob Zinda recorded sixteen tackles. Elsinore linebacker Ryan Laverdiere made several key stops. Also contributing in the game were Valley players: defensive end Dallas House (Linfield Christian), defensive back Matthew Palmer (Heritage), linebacker Trevor Cuicchi (Temescal Canyon), and offensive lineman Niko Gomez (Heritage).
San Bernardino’s Rasheed-Mills completed five-of-nine passes for 109 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for 143 yards and another score.
“This is probably the best game we’ve ever seen based on athleticism,” said event director Jim Wynn, cofounder of the SPORT Foundation. The annual SPORT Foundation Inland Empire Classic has featured some of the area’s top seniors from more than 100 schools throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and has awarded more than $135,000 in scholarships over the past 28 years. The event also benefits many SPORT Foundation youth programs.
Pre-game ceremonies included the presentation of a game ball signed by both teams to Jordan Walker, a Santiago High School junior whose spinal cord injury in a CIF quarterfinal game left him paralyzed. Those interested in donating to the medical fund to help Jordan and the family are directed to: www.gofundme.com (#prayforjordanwalker).
“Next year will be year thirty,” says Winn, “Come out and support the event and if there are any businesses that want to be a part of it, call me at (951) 274-3455.”
Congratulations Riverside County on a fourth consecutive victory!