Falcons Soar Into NCFC's Top Division With 35-29 Victory

Falcons Soar Into NCFC's Top Division With 35-29 Victory

The West Hills College Coalinga football team, making its Nothern California Football Conference National Division debut, upset the state's 20th-ranked team Diablo Valley College, 35-29, Friday night at Memorial Bowl Stadium.

The Falcons were elevated to the CCCAA playoff tier after a successful 33-9 run in the American Division over the last four years.

Despite its smaller roster size, WHCC more than held its own during the Week 1 match-up - against a bigger, more physical Viking squad. DVC was coming off a bowl-qualifying 2017 season with several NCAA Division-1 prospects.

"It was a great win for our program, playing in the top division against a ranked opponent," said head coach Justin Berna, who won his fifth straight home game in Coalinga.

"Tonight was a great test for us to see where we are and to see what we need to improve on, as we face another great team in Shasta next week. We scored 35 points against a really good team and feel like we left other opportunities to do more."

Sophomore transfer QB Jamal Salaam tossed a pair of touchdown passes to sophomore Imoni Donadelle - who was making his return to WHCC after a year away. Donadelle led the team with three catches for 91 yards. Both of his scores (31, 40) beat man coverage.

Salaam was 11-for-25 passing for 184 yards (INT) and 36 yards rushing (7-yard TD run) - finishing with three total scores in his Falcons debut.

The running game also featured Dwan James (13 rushes, 65 yds, TD) and Kahlil Harshaw (16, 37, TD). James used his speed to breakaway for a 29-yard run in the fourth quarter, giving the Falcons a 35-22 lead with 10:23 remaining.

Sophomore WR Jameel Salaam, twin brother of the Falcons starting QB, had four receptions for 40 yards; and sophomore WR Deharrius Smedley also grabbed four passes for 42 yards.

On defense, sophomore LB Fred Feleti led the team with 9 tackles (1.5 for loss), one fumble recovery, one pass breakup and a half sack.

Sophomore S Doniaj Smelker and CB Andre Brown added 7 tackles; while sophomore captain LB Richard Perkins had 6 tackles and a big interception (21-yard return) that helped keep the momentum for the home team.

Both teams exchanged big scoring plays on offense, defense and special teams. The Vikings opened the scoring with an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by Ryan Payne.

WHCC answered with three straight touchdowns, with DVC adding a two-point conversion on a blocked extra point.

The Vikings scored on a fourth-down 17-yard pass from Jarrod Hoyer to Dylan Alves with just eight seconds remaining in the half - cutting WHCC's lead to 21-15. Diablo Valley forced a fumble on the second-half kickoff, then scored six plays later (Roman Sahagun 3 yd pass from Jarrod Hoyer) to take a 22-21 lead.

After Smedley's 58-yard kickoff return, the Falcons needed just one play to regain the lead on Salaam's 40-yard sideline bomb to Donadelle - making it 28-22. Then James' 29-yard dash through several Viking defenders all but sealed the win, giving WHCC a 35-22 cushion.

Backup placekicker Cannon Eames was 3-for-3 on extra point attempts.

UP NEXT: WHCC will face a familiar opponent - Shasta College, the other new member of the National Division - for a 12 p.m. kickoff in Redding next Saturday.