COSTA MESA — With eight wins in the previous nine meetings, in which it built combined 283-111 scoring margin, it could be argued that Palomar Community College had taken ownership of the Orange Coast football program's dignity.
So it was sweet indeed for the Pirates when they emerged with not only a 35-28 upset victory to open Southern Conference play Saturday, but also paraded off the field with a sizable portion of Palomar's collective will.
"It feels good," OCC sophomore guard Kyle Finney said after the Pirates (3-1, 1-0 in conference), ranked No. 18 in Southern California, amassed 370 of their 556 offensive yards after halftime to pull away from a Palomar squad ranked No. 5 in Southern California and No. 13 in the state. "That's kind of our mentality to just come out and dominate up front; just brutally, but also with our pace, the pace of our offense."
The Pirates' no-huddle spread offense produced 319 yards and two touchdowns through the air, as freshman quarterback Jon Newsom completed 18 of 28 pass attempts, including 10 of 15 after intermission.
But it was the punishing and productive ground game that punctuated what was only the Pirates' second win over Palomar since 2000. OCC amassed 18 of its 30 first downs on the ground, including five on the game's final possession.
Taking over with 5:47 left after Palomar's Austin Dennis darted 92 yards for a touchdown on a kickoff return that followed OCC's second scoring pass of the fourth quarter, OCC drained the clock by bludgeoning the neutral zone to make the Comets fizzle.
The Pirates, who had touchdown drives of 13 and 11 plays, executed 13 snaps to finalize a three-game win streak, the program's longest since a 4-0 start in 2009. The final play came from victory formation, adding yet another facet to an offense that seized the spotlight Saturday.
"I'm just proud of this win," said OCC sophomore tailback Robert Penny, who carried 29 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns, topping 100 yards for the third straight contest. "I told myself and I told the team that we're the underdogs, so we just have to make stuff happen, make plays. Our offensive line, I give props to them. They had me. And our defense held them down. Palomar is a good team."
OCC Coach Mike Taylor was just shy of giddy afterward.
"We were maybe a little intimidated early on, because they have taken their chances and beaten us over the years," Taylor said.
Freshman Buzzy Yokoyama had 37 of his 78 total rushing yards on six carries during the final possession, moving the chains on three of those runs.
Penny added 72 yards on three receptions, while freshman wideouts Bryan Keller (four catches for 95 yards and one touchdown) and Cam Oliver (five catches for 41 yards) also stood out.
Newsom hit Keller in stride for a 47-yard touchdown bomb after Palomar had jumped offsides on third-and-two with 6:08 left. The "free play" capped a strong second-half passing performance for Newsom, who lofted a 34-yard scoring toss to freshman tailback Graeme Fraser on a wheel route to open the fourth quarter.
Fraser's touchdown reception, followed by the fourth of five conversion kicks by Jackson Dionne, put OCC up, 28-21.
After Keller's scoring grab capped a five-play, 78-yard drive to make it 35-21, Palomar, which scored on two of its first four possessions and went 45 yards for a touchdown on just three plays with its initial second-half possession, extended the suspense with the aforementioned kickoff return.
OCC erased a 14-0 first-half deficit by covering 69 and 70 yards on touchdown marches of 13 and eight plays before halftime. Each drive included two third-down conversions to keep the OCC defense off the field.
On its 11-play, 83-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, OCC converted on third-and-three, fourth-and-two and fourth-and-one. The fourth-down gambles came from the Palomar 28- and 4-yard lines, as OCC opted against would-be field-goal tries by Dionne, who had kicked a 52-yarder this season.
OCC also failed on fourth-and-two at the Comets' 35 with 9:57 left, throwing an incomplete pass instead of opting for a 52-yard field-goal try.
But sophomore cornerback Clay Guess intercepted on third down of the ensuing possession to set up what turned out to be the game-winning score.
Conversely, Palomar (2-2, 0-1) was burned by field-goal attempts, as Utah transfer Jon Halliday, who had made six of six attempts this season, including four last week, missed tries of 50 (wide left), 43 (wide right) and 39 (wide left) yards.