COSTA MESA -- The Orange Coast College football team opened up National Southern League play with an impressive 28-20 win over visiting Palomar College on Saturday night at Dick Tucker Field.
The Pirates (2-4, 1-0 in league) came out swinging and ran out to a 28-6 lead late into the third quarter before a pair of TDs by the Comets (4-2, 0-1) made things interesting down the stretch.
The OCC defense held the Comets to just five yards of rushing offense all night long, thanks to four sacks and strong play by the D-line, which hounded Palomar quarterback Matt Romero (27-of-48, 322 yards, two TDs, two interceptions) throughout the contest.
Palomar forced a punt by the Pirates on their opening drive and marched down the field to the OCC 8-yard line, but had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Tyler Vargas to take a 3-0 lead.
OCC quarterback Pete Mitchell (14-of-23, 182 yards, one TD) connected on four straight passes on Coast's next drive, with the final pass connecting with Bayley Wolff for a 13-yard TD strike, putting the Pirates up, 7-3.
Romero and Comets quickly marched down the field, but was intercepted by Nicholas Ebanks just shy of the OCC goal line, keeping the Comets off of the scoreboard.
A huge turning point in the game came on OCC's next possession, when a mishandled punt in the end zone led to Palomar with the ball at the OCC 7-yard line. But the Pirate defense clamped down and three straight plays yielded zero yards, forcing the Comets into a 25-yard field goal attempt by Vargas. The kick sailed wide-left and a golden opportunity by the Comets was shut down for zero points by the OCC defense.
Coast then took its next possession 80 yards on eight plays as Wolff found the end zone on a 15-yard reverse, putting OCC ahead, 14-3.
With just over five minutes left in the first half, Romero was picked off again -- this time by Shawn Snyder -- giving Coast the ball inside the Comets' 24-yard line and five plays later, Nico Jackson plowed in from a yard out to give the Pirates a 21-3 advantage. Jackson finished the evening with 105 rushing yards and a TD on 16 carries to help anchor the Pirate ground game.
Palomar took the opening drive of the second half and connected on a 40-yard field goal by Vargas to make it 21-6, but late in the third, backup quarterback Ayden Auer marched his troops 47 yards on eight plays to the Comet 8-yard line. From there Auer scrambled on a third-and-goal and used every bit of his athletic ability to lunge over a Palomar defender and cross the goal line to put the Pirates up, 28-6.
The Comets scored a pair of TDs to get to within one score at 28-20, but the Pirates picked up key first downs on their final drive of the night and ran off the final 5:47 of the clock to preserve the win.
Coast will return to Dick Tucker Field on Saturday against Grossmont, beginning at 1 p.m.