COSTA MESA —The Orange Coast College football team spotted rival Golden West a 13-0 lead over just more than the first 15 minutes and couldn't recover Saturday night.
One might say that the Rustlers' 23-21 victory, its third straight in the series now billed as the West Coast Showdown, left the Pirates a Penny short.
Sophomore tailback Robert Penny, who came in with 1,412 career rushing yards and five games with at least 100 rushing yards this season, was limited to four carries for 16 yards and one touchdown due to what Coach Mike Taylor said was a sinus infection.
With Penny unable to practice this week and ultimately shoulder his typical load, the OCC ground game produced only 74 yards in 32 attempts, helping Golden West compile a 403-338 advantage in total offense.
Even so, OCC (3-6, 1-4 in the Southern Division) had its chances to win. The Pirates, who have lost five straight, had missed field-goal attempts from Jackson Dionne (36 yards, wide left) and Chavo Camargo (23 yards, wide right) in the second half.
OCC, which lost two fumbles, also muffed a punt that led to a Rustler field goal with 11:02 left in the game, the only points of the final 44:51 of the contest for the visitors (3-6, 1-4).
One of OCC's fumbles was at the Rustlers' three-yard line to halt a drive with 1:48 left.
The Pirates, who saw freshman quarterbacks Cameron Biedgoly and Jon Newsom struggle in the opening half, when they produced 67 passing yards and were sacked four times, scored on their opening possession of the second half to pull within 20-14.
And, after recovering a Golden West fumble with 1:29 left, OCC pulled within two points when sophomore receiver Tyler Duncan laid out in the end zone to come up with a 16-yard Biedgoly scoring pass with 84 seconds remaining.
Golden West recovered the ensuing onside kickoff and used all but three seconds of the clock, before giving the ball back to OCC on downs at the Pirates' 43-yard line.
A Hail Mary pass on the final play sailed out of bounds near the goal line to give Golden West its first division win and its first triumph in its last six games.
OCC, which had allowed an average of 49.5 points in its four previous games, gave up 312 total yards, including 215 on the ground, in the first half. The Rustlers, who averaged a mere 16.8 points in their first eight games, during which they averaged a mere 109 rushing yards, amassed 12 first downs and ran 42 plays before intermission, nearly double the Pirates' 22 plays.
"They were gashing us in the first half," Taylor said after freshman running back Marcus Hays collected 182 of his 247 rushing yards in the opening two quarters. Hays, who had touchdown runs of 57 and one yards to double his TD total for the season, had produced 430 yards on 81 carries coming in.
But OCC appeared to play with greater intensity after halftime. It drove 78 yards on 12 plays with the second-half kickoff, with Penny providing the capping one-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to six points. Penny had each of his four carries on that drive, but did not return.
OCC forced a Rustler punt after the ensuing kickoff and drove to the 16 yard-line before eventually settling for an errant 36-yard field-goal try.
A lost fumble when Biedgoly dropped a shotgun snap on the first play after a GWC punt, and a muffed punt reception by OCC, both inside the Pirates' 20, helped Golden West retain possession for all but a few seconds of a stretch of nearly eight minutes spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters.
That run was culminated when Rustlers sophomore Hector Solis, a Costa Mesa High product who played last season at OCC, converted a 23-yard field goal, his third of the game, with 11:02 left. Biedgoly, who threw an interception near the end of the first half, finished with 207 passing yards, completing 18 of 31.
Freshman Buzzy Yokoyama had seven receptions for 85 yards, while Duncan caught four passes for 59 yards for OCC.
Freshman middle linebacker Frank Chambers, who led the Pirates with 11 tackles, returned a fumble 14 yards to the Golden West one-yard line to set up OCC's final score.
"We came back in the second half and got some momentum going," Taylor said. "Defensively, we played better and held them to three points [after halftime]. But, obviously, we need to make a kick. We had a couple of field-goal opportunities. If we make one of the two field goals, we win the game."