Coach Brett Peabody wasn’t afraid to cry a little bit on Saturday night because there was something therapeutic about Long Beach City College football’s season-ending win at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
After months of being limited by forces they couldn’t control, the Vikings celebrated every second of their 31-17 victory over Allan Hancock. They especially enjoyed flooding the field after linebacker Drew Wilson intercepted the last pass of the game and took it back for a touchdown as time expired.
“You’re talking to a very very happy coach right now,” Peabody said. “We’ve won a lot of big games here, but this is one of the most rewarding wins of my career personally. I can’t thank these young men and my coaching staff enough.”
Because of COVID restrictions, LBCC didn’t get to practice regularly until June, didn’t have recruits on campus until late June and didn’t work out in the weight room until July.
“We had high expectations coming into the year but we had so much adversity,” Peabody said. “We’ve had 12 season-ending injuries and another army of guys out because of COVID protocols today.”
LBCC (4-5) has scuffled through the season and lost at Bakersfield on Oct. 30 before COVID tests shut down practice and canceled the game against Canyons scheduled on Nov. 13. The Vikings were forced to stay at home, and only got to practice once this week on Friday.
“We were off for basically three weeks,” LBCC sophomore defensive back and Millikan High alum De’Jon Vanhook said. “For us to just practice Friday and then come out and do this, it just shows how united we are. A lot of dudes quit. So the ones here (right now) are the true LBCC team. We’re the true Vikings.”
While he was trying to keep his team together, Peabody got life-altering news.
“My wife (Celeste) got diagnosed with cervical cancer this week,” Peabody said through tears after the game. “It’s been rough. So I couldn’t be more grateful for these guys, or more proud of them.”
LBCC (4-5) started the game strong with a 13-play, five-minute scoring drive that quarterback Derrick West capped with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Trenell Ridgley in the back of the end zone. West ended up completing passes to seven different receivers.
After Vanhook jumped a slant route for an interception three plays later, Ryder Padilla kicked a 37-yard field goal to put the Vikings up 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Allan Hancock (5-5) only threw the ball nine times in the first three quarters and used it’s rushing attack to retake the lead. A ‘running into the kicker’ penalty kept the first drive of the second quarter alive long enough for Dior Kennedy to cap it with a nine-yard touchdown run.
The visitors took a 14-10 lead 2:42 before halftime on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Mike McCoy to Isaac Yanez, but the Vikings went to the break with the lead thanks to a 12-play drive.
With 10 seconds left on the first-half clock, receiver Jaylon Morgan caught in a tipped pass at the two-yard line. Two plays later, receiver Zach Leets went up the ladder to haul in a fade pass from West in the back corner of the end zone to put LBCC up 17-14.
Leets wasn’t done influencing the outcome as he took over punting duties and blasted a 70-yard punt early in the third quarter that pinned Allen Hancock deep. The Vikings defense forced a quick three and out, then Thaddeus Dixon blocked the punt out of the end zone for the safety and a 19-14 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Jordan High alum Jaylon Morgan caught his first junior college touchdown from Blaze McKibbin to give LBCC an 11-point advantage.
“We went through a lot this season with COVID holding us back, missing practices… We only had one practice this week on Friday but we came through and fought hard together and came out with the victory,” Morgan said.
Allen Hancock kicker Colton Theaker booted a 50-yard field goal with 3:33 left to make it a one score game, and the visitors got the ball back with less than a minute left, but Wilson’s pick-six off a tipped pass from 30-yards out officially ended the game in style for the home team.
The entire LBCC bench cleared as the Vikings ran to celebrate with Wilson in the end zone.
“The way they came out here and knocked a good football team out of a bowl game,” Peabody said of his team. “They finished it the right way.”