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Panthers win a squeaker over El Cerrito

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Monday September 17, 2001

Tailback George scores three TDs for St. Mary’s 

Minutes after getting his first win as a head coach, St. Mary’s Jay Lawson had a huge grin on his face. 

The first words out of his mouth were, “I’ll take it.” 

Lawson’s team had just wriggled out of a tight spot thanks to a sloppy play by their opponent, El Cerrito, at just the right time. After Gaucho running back Jamonte Cox scored his third touchdown of the day with 3:12 left in the game to pull his team to within one point at 28-27, El Cerrito holder Greg Murray let the point-after snap slip through his fingers, pretty much handing the game to the Panthers. 

Lawson, who took over the head job at St. Mary’s this season after 12 years under former head coach Dan Shaughnessy, knew his team had narrowly avoided a second-half collapse that could have cost them the victory. 

“When they scored, we were concentrating on getting our offense ready, figuring out how to score and get ahead again,” Lawson said of the fateful PAT attempt. 

The Panthers were ahead 28-14 at halftime thanks to some brilliant running by tailback Trestin George and a repeat performance on special teams by Courtney Brown. George scored three touchdowns in the first half, including a 71-yard run to give the Panthers their first offensive score of the season near the end of the first quarter.  

That run, on which George was freed by a spectacular block by offensive lineman Julian Taylor, tied the game at 7-7 after Cox had put the Gauchos up with a 5-yard touchdown run. The showdown between George and Cox, both considered among the top backs in California, was one-sided in favor of George, who ended the day with 161 yards on 23 carries and a 35-yard touchdown catch off of a screen from quarterback Steve Murphy.  

Cox had a subpar game despite his three rushing scores, gaining just 62 yards on 21 carries. His longest run was for 10 yards, and he only his only big play was a 56-yard catch. Cox also fumbled the ball four times, although only one resulted in a turnover. It was a key blunder, however, as the senior fumbled the ball just before crossing the goal line, and the ball was recovered by St. Mary’s defensive lineman Jonathon Tarranto in the end zone. 

“We were looking for Cox to get the ball off tackle and on screens, and we geared our defense to stop him,” Lawson said. 

The Panthers used solid support from their outside linebackers to contain Cox, forcing him into the teeth of their huge defensive line. Linebacker Omarr Flood was impressive, making three tackles for loss on Cox. 

George, on the other hand, seemed unstoppable for much of the game. He took the opening kickoff 89 yards for an apparent touchdown, but the run was called back on a clipping penalty. His most spectacular score was his shortest, as the senior took a handoff from 10 yards out and was met by two El Cerrito defenders in the backfield. George took the hit and spun away to the left, then weaved his way through several more Gauchos before crossing the goal line. 

“I had to make some big plays today after what happened last week,” said George, who was held to 59 yards by Bishop O’Dowd in the season opener. “Big players make big plays, and we’ve got a lot of big players here.” 

Falling precisely into that category is Brown. A week after scoring the lone St. Mary’s touchdown in the loss to O’Dowd on a kickoff return, Brown made a repeat performance. After the Gauchos had pulled to within 21-14 late in the second quarter, he took the kickoff at the 10 and burst through the first wave of defenders, then broke to the left sideline and out-ran everyone to the end zone. 

“I told (Brown) he’d better not let me down next week,” Lawson joked. “Touchdown returns are part of the game plan now.” 

Although the Gauchos looked thoroughly deflated by Brown’s quick strike, they came out of halftime with renewed fire. They buckled down on defense to stop the Panthers’ big plays and didn’t allow a score in the second half. And one breakdown by the St. Mary’s special teams was all they needed to get right back in the game. 

After a Gaucho drive stalled at midfield, the punting team came on. A St. Mary’s player tipped the punt, which quickly died on the ground. St. Mary’s defensive back Kenny Griffin unwisely tried to pick the ball up and fumbled it on the 15-yard line, where it was recovered by a pile of Gauchos. 

El Cerrito nearly failed to capitalize, as two successive penalties put them in a 4th-and-14 situation, but quarterback Randy Gatewood found James Cannon for 19 yards and first down. Two plays later Cox rumbled for a score from a yard out, cutting the deficit to 28-21. 

“That fumble really gave them new life,” said Lawson, whose team struggled on special teams most of the game. “We had started shooting ourselves in the foot, and (El Cerrito) got it going in the third quarter.” 

After a St. Mary’s turnover on downs with 8:17 left in the game, the Gauchos put together their most impressive drive of the day, running the ball 10 times for 62 yards and Cox’s final touchdown. But after the mishandled snap kept the lead in St. Mary’s hands, George conjured up one final burst of brilliance, taking the kickoff back 49 yards to the El Cerrito 38. He then got a key first down with a three-yard run on 4th-and-1, allowing the Panthers to run the clock out. 

NOTES: George, who is being recruited by most of the Pac-10, said he is currently favoring the Washington Huskies and USC Trojans. He said he will make a decision by early February... After fumbling the ball seven times against O’Dowd, the Panthers forced seven fumbles by the Gauchos. They only recovered one, however... St. Mary’s quarterback Murphy completed just four of 12 pass attempts, but made them count, averaging 31 yards per completion. Receiver Chase Moore had three catches for 93 yards.