On Dec. 11, 2021, at Hilmer Lodge Stadium in Walnut, Calif., City College of San Francisco Rams quarterback Jack Newman blasted his snap count to start the first scrimmage play of the most exciting game of their perfect season, the state championship.
“Down set 78 78 12 hut hut.”
While City College shuddered under the darkening clouds of the budget crisis, declining enrollment, layoffs of faculty and service workers, cut classes and pandemic anxiety, the Rams football squad rose from the COVID-19 shutdown of the 2020 season to an historic 12-0 record. Their fighting spirit may provide a model for coping with the trying times facing the college.
Tension grew quickly in the first half of the championship game as the Riverside College Tigers defense controlled the line. Finally star quarterback Jack Newman unleashed a beautiful rainbow pass with 3:38 left in the first quarter; it fell through the arms of his receiver and rolled dead in the end zone.
After an exchange of touchdowns, sorcery seemed at work when Ricardo Chavez’ record-tying 59-yard field goal hit the crossbar and bounced over to give the Tigers a 10-7 lead with no time remaining in the first half.
(VIDEO: The spooky field goal.)
Playing from behind was unfamiliar territory for the 2021 Rams team. They were part of City College’s storied career that boasted ten national championships, eight state championships and myriad other accolades as advertised on a giant billboard above the home field bleachers. The 2021 team was used to dominating.
Through the 2020 pandemic shutdown they worked hard to keep their spirit strong, including Newman, who, recalling his shock at the field goal said, “It bounced through, it was amazing, bounced through, and that was the first time all year we were down at the half by three points.”
Offensive lineman Nikko Pohahau said his favorite memory from the game actually was right before it started.
“I knew it was my last game with the City College of San Francisco because I was moving on to the next level, so just being in that locker room and looking around and understanding that this is our last game, we’re gonna win this game.”
(VIDEO: Offensive lineman Nikko Pohahau.)
The Rams strode onto the field for the second half with a burning determination. They would not let their perfect 12-0 season end in defeat. That was not who they were.
But the Tigers struck again after the Rams fumbled the kickoff. The Tigers recovered, turning it into a field goal for a 13-7 lead. Then Newman under pressure threw an interception and things were looking grim.
The Ram’s defense stiffened and Riverside went three and out. But the Rams offense continued to sputter and the Tigers got the ball back on their 11 with under four minutes left in the third quarter.
Again the Rams held and got the ball back on their 40. Short runs by Devan Walker, two short completions and a penalty against Riverside brought San Francisco to Riverside’s doorstep with a chance to take the lead for the first time in the game.
A couple of pass plays went nowhere and it looked like more frustration for Newman. Then, with the clock ticking down to the fourth quarter Newman found Traivon Drummer wide open in the corner. The point after gave the Rams their first lead, 14-13.
The fourth quarter is where this game became a classic.
The Rams defense held tough. But when Riverside punted, San Francisco fumbled again and the Tigers recovered five yards from the goal line. Running back Thomas Kinslow punched it in. A failed two point conversion left Riverside’s lead at 19-14 with 12:15 left to play.
Another big rainbow from Newman, this time caught by Drummer near the 25. After catching a screen pass Walker literally flew across the end zone corner, magically reaching the ball over the goal line. A successful two point conversion put San Francisco back in the lead 22-19.
(VIDEO: See Devan Walker’s touchdown.)
But Riverside wasn’t done. With 4:43 left in the game a great drive brought them to the 10. The cheerleaders were jubilant. The Riverside fans were dancing. Quarterback Jordan Barton handed off. Nothing. He lofted one into the end zone. Too high. He drilled one over the center. Intercepted!
(VIDEO: The key interception.)
Ripping victory from the Tigers’ teeth, defensive back D’Andre Greeley downed himself on the 15. The Rams ran out the clock and took home the state championship for the first time since 2015.
(VIDEO: The Rams celebrate their victory.)
Newman and Pohahau are gone, off to their Division 1 assignments at UC Davis and University of Connecticut, along with many of the players that made the championship season one of the best in college history.
But Collins said the new squad shows great promise and will be playing their spring intra-squad scrimmage at George Rush Stadium on May 19 at 3:30.
View the 2021 team roster.
This article was produced for JOUR 35: Data and Multimedia Journalism Spring 2022 semester with guidance from instructor Alex Mullaney and editing from The Guardsman.