Pirates stumble to Rustlers in season opener, 24-7

Photo courtesy of Steven Guersch.
Photo courtesy of Steven Guersch.

COSTA MESA -- A loss is never easy to swallow -- especially when it's against rival Golden West and it's the season opener -- but when that season opener takes place nearly two YEARS following the previous game ... sometimes it's just great to be on the football field again.

Week 1 is in the books and despite a 24-7 setback to the Rustlers in the annual Battle of the Bell Game, it was a postcard night and a football-hungry crowd of 3,000 in attendance to see two neighbors do battle for the 53th time. 

The Rustlers had control of things for most of the game, jumping out to a 17-0 lead at the half and making it 24-0 on their second offensive series of the third quarter. 

After a rough first half, the Pirates managed to find some better offensive success in the second half and finished the game with 261 yards of total offense. 

The quarterback tandem of J.D. Rafkin and Brandon Cannella threw for a combined 196 yards on 21-of-40 passing. Rafkin helped get the Pirates on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter when he hooked up with wide receiver Boogie Lilley-Sneed on a 33-yard touchdown pass to snap the shutout bid. Lilley-Sneed finished with four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, while teammate Edwin LaCrosse led the way with five grabs for 56 yards.

Running backs Colin Gregg and J.P. Segura-Queijeiro combined for 78 yards on 18 carries and showed some promise in the backfield against a dangerous Rustler defensive corps. 

GWC's Jake Retzlaff was 16-of-27 for 161 yards and cashed in on three 1-yard TD runs in the game for the bulk of the Rustlers' offense. 

The turning point of the game came late in the first half. With OCC trailing 10-0, the Pirate offense was starting to find success as Cannell hooked up with LaCrosse for a pair of big-yard plays, moving the ball inside the Rustlers side of the field. But three plays later, the drive stalled with a Rustler interception and GWC managed to find the end zone again with 36 seconds remaining before halftime to take a 17-0 advantage. 

Both teams struggled with penalties, which is to be expected in a rivalry game and a two-year absense from competition. OCC had nine infractions for 51 yards, while GWC racked up 111 penalty yards on 12 flags. 

The Pirates will return to LeBard Stadium on Saturday against Grossmont College, beginning at 6 p.m.