SANTA MONICA - Behind a dominant second-half performance, East Los Angeles College defeated host Santa Monica College, 42-28, to win the American Bowl Saturday as the Huskies concluded their best season since 1974.
"We put the exclamation point on our season," said ELAC quarterback Aaron Cantu. "This is unbelievable."
Cantu led the way with another impressive performance as the freshman passed for 330 yards and a touchdown. The Schurr High product completed 20 of 31 attempts to pace an attack that racked up 521 yards of total offense.
Running back Preston Oliver had another stellar game by rushing for 147 yards on 20 carries. He scored two touchdowns and had a key 52-yard run in the fourth quarter when the Huskies were backed deep in their own territory.
The freshman also caught three passes for 36 yards.
ELAC's defense came up with five turnovers, including four interceptions.
The Mountain Conference champion Huskies extended their winning streak to seven games and finished the season 8-3. Making the victory all the more special was that they avenged an overtime loss to Santa Monica in the season's second week.
"We were excited about the rematch, and so happy that we got the payback," said Cantu, who had yet to become the starting quarterback when the game was played Sept.
It was ELAC's best season since the state championship season of 1974, which ended with the Huskies defeating San Jose City College in the Potato Bowl. They were led that season by Lynn Cain, the state's player of the year who is now ELAC's head coach.
"This is a great moment," he said, while holding the American Bowl championship trophy. "I've been very fortunate and blessed to have had the experience of winning a bowl game as a player and now winning it as a coach. It's been a good ride and a lot of fun."
After leaving the field at halftime tied, 21-21, the Huskies dominated time of possession in the second half. They held the ball for 20 minutes, 51 seconds.
"We held the ball and got first downs, and our defense stepped up for us big time," Cantu said. "Those were the keys."
The Huskies constantly pressured Santa Monica quarterback Alfonso Medina, sacking him three times and forcing him to hurry passes.
"Our defensive line was really dominant today," ELAC defensive coordinator Geoff Ackerman said. "We kept the pressure on and forced interceptions. We have 10 interceptions in our last two games."
Defensive tackles Chris Floyd and Rigoberto Verdin both came up with sacks to lead the defensive line that also got strong play from tackle Brad Sanchez and ends Guillermo Duran and Michael Frias. Sanchez was in on four tackles and had an interception.
They freed up linebackers Hector Cazales, Justin Munoz and Joel Green to make tackles. Cazales had a team-leading seven unassisted tackles, including a sack. Munoz made five solo tackles, and Green had an interception.
Defensive back Nasir Moore had two interceptions and broke up three passes. Tyrone Moore got credit for five tackles, including four that were unassisted.
After quickly forcing Santa Monica to punt to start the second half, ELAC used 13 plays to drive 76 yards, with Oliver scoring on a three-yard touchdown run to take a 28-21 lead, an advantage the Huskies never gave up.
Floyd blocked a punt by Santa Monica's Jose Esquivel, which Frias recovered and returned 20 yards to the Corsairs' 13-yard line.
Cantu threw a seven-yard pass to Chris Clark to set up his two-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 35-21.
The Husky defense came up with what arguably was its biggest play of the game on Santa Monica's next possession. Verdin sacked Medina at the Corsairs' 20-yard line, causing him to fumble. The ball bounced and rolled until Verdin recovered it for a touchdown. The score increased the lead to 42-21 with 3:35 left in the quarter.
Santa Monica countered with a 92-yard drive that took only seven plays to pull to within 42-28 with 12:54 left in the game. But Santa Monica's next series ended with the Corsairs losing the ball on downs. Green's interception ended the one after that.
Meanwhile, ELAC's offense ran time off the clock behind the running of Oliver, Marquel Booker and Louis Oneal.
Paving the way up front were tackles Ramon Barraza and Carlos Lozano, guards Hasiel Santo, Caesar Aguila and Jamal Turckile and center Alberto Perez, a Schurr grad.
"We got off to a slow start, but we kept playing hard and picked it up in the second half," Barraza said. "We're on a winning streak and nothing was going to keep us from winning."
The Huskies trailed Santa Monica three times in the first half. Oliver's 12-yard touchdown run tied the score, 7-7, in the first quarter. Luther Walker turned a 20-yard pass reception into a 95-yard scoring play to even the score, 14-14.
In the second quarter, Walker's 16-yard touchdown run tied the score, 21-21.
Wide receiver Carlos Arredondo, also from Schurr, had another outstanding performance for the
Huskies. The sophomore wide receiver caught six passes for 72 yards. Carlos Portillo had four receptions for 46 yards.