COSTA MESA -- Against one of the top preseason teams in the state, the Orange Coast College football team hung tough for all four quarters before coming up just short in a 24-20 loss to visiting Ventura College on Saturday night at LeBard Stadium's Dick Tucker Field.
In a game that saw both teams garner similar offensive numbers, it came down to a few plays on special teams that proved to be the difference in the 2018 season opener for both teams.
Coast lost a total of six points on a missed field goal, a missed extra point and a controversial botched punt by Ventura, which rolled out of the end zone and what appeared to be a safety was ruled a touchback.
Quarterback Pete Mitchell racked up 202 yards of total offense, throwing for 122 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 84 yards on 12 carries for the Pirates, while Ahmad Lewis made the most of his 11 carries, rushing for 77 yards.
After both teams banged around scoreless through most of the first quarter, Ventura finally found the scoreboard when a nine-play, 71-yard scoring drive was capped off by a 2-yard TD run by Thomas Duckett. A Kyle Continente PAT put the VC Pirates up, 7-0 with 11 seconds left in the opening quarter.
VC's next possession also resulted in a touchdown as Hayden Nease pounded the ball into the end zone on an 8-yard run to cap off an 11-play, 58-yard drive, putting the guests up 14-0.
OCC punted the ball away on its next possession, but a botched return was recovered by OCC's Noah Silao at the Ventura 22-yard line, giving the host Pirates some life.
It stayed 14-7 through the rest of the first half, but midway through the third quarter, Mitchell connected with Laurent for a 56-yard TD strike and Casper's made PAT evened the game at 14.
The OCC defense played well and held Ventura at bay through the majority of the third quarter.
The key play came on a punt by OCC's Christopher Bartolic late in the third. The ball bounced and appeared to deflect off of the hands of returner Jaylen Watson. Watson and a pair of OCC special teams defenders raced for the ball into the back of the end zone, where it also appeared Watson possessed the ball before falling out of bounds.
But the officials discussed the play and ruled it a touchback, turning a 16-14 OCC lead and an eventual new possession into a starting drive for Ventura ... a drive that ended with a 30-yard made field goal by Continente with 12:54 remaining in the game.
With Ventura up 17-14, the guests scored again on an 11-yard TD run by Brock Domann with 9:05 left, putting VC up 24-14.
But OCC would not quit and on its next possession, Mitchell capped off an 8-play, 80-yard drive with a 20-yard TD pass to Stephens with 5:39 remaining, making it 24-20 after a Casper PAT was blocked.
The Coast defense forced a Ventura punt, giving Coast an opportunity to win the game with one final touchdown, but OCC's 11-play, 47-yard drive stalled on the Ventura 38-yard line with 55 seconds left.
OCC will return to action on Saturday at East L.A. College, beginning at 6 p.m. Coast's next home game will be on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. against El Camino.