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For the first time in 41 years, Los Angeles Southwest College hosted a football game and for a few hours on a clear Saturday afternoon that turned hazy from fires across the Southland, the campus was abuzz like never before.
The buzz came from seeing a stateof- the-art stadium with fresh field turf, a two-story field house and a new scoreboard. It got louder as the public address announcer played the verbal maestro to a day that had been two years in the making since ground broke.
And on the field, the Cougars (2-8) gave them something to remember. A high scoring affair with West Los Angeles College—the former site of their home games—that ended with sophomore Brandon Reid kicking a game-winning field goal with 5.1 seconds left to give the Cougars a 42-40 victory.
Throw in a halftime performance by the Crenshaw High School matching band and Grammy-Award winning R&B singer L.V., a Southwest alumnus, performing the national anthem; the game had an atmosphere of a regular Saturday of college football.
Except it wasn’t your ordinary Saturday game.
Prior to kickoff, the surviving members of the school’s first team in 1971 were recognized. For them, it was strange coming back to a turf field where, according to offensive lineman Joe Hembrick, there once stood a grass field mostly of “gopher holes and dirt”
“There are two things that happened that I’d never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Barack Obama becoming President and Southwest getting a permanent field,” Hembrick said.
Also recognized were other alumni like 10-year NFL veteran Oliver Ross and nine-year NFL veteran Mark Fields, a two-time Pro Bowler who donated the scoreboard to the field. In a special presentation, the mother of the school’s first All-American, Chris Mims, was presented with flowers. Mims, who spent nine years in the NFL, passed away unexpectedly in October.
As for the game, it got off to a bad start for Southwest, giving up 14 points on two turnovers in the first five minutes of the game. But they clawed their way back to tie it up by the end of the quarter as both scores ironically came on 1-yard touchdown runs and drives that lasted 2 minutes and 50 seconds.
(For the record, West LA defensive back Rayvin Smith scored the first touchdown in the stadium—a fumble recovery only a minute in the game— and Southwest freshman running back Al Hines scored the Cougars’ first touchdown in their new place on a 1-yard run with 7:54 left.)
After West LA scored on their opening drive of the second half to make it 34-21, the Cougars came back on two short touchdown runs although both conversions failed. The game went back-and-forth until Southwest’s final drive with 2:33 left.
Sophomore quarterback Torrey Harkness led the team from their 8-yard line down to the West LA 14-yard line. It was a masterful two-minute drill mixed with runs and short pass plays that included a conversion on 4th and 3 to set up a 12-yard pass on the following play.
Three plays later, it was time for Reid to be the hero. The ball went off the left upright and went over the post to send the crowd and the sidelines into a frenzy.
“I was glad that ball went in,” he said, “I missed two field goals earlier so I owed the team the victory.” The celebration was put on hold, as Reid had to re-kick the kickoff after twice kicking it out of bounds and West LA tried in vain to lateral their way to victory.
They got as far as the Southwest 15 but an illegal block at midfield negated the run and the celebration began in earnest.
“The kids were not going to lose in their stadium,” Washington said, relaying a pre-game message the team was told by Southwest President Dr. Jack Daniels.
It was the Cougars’ best offensive performance of the year: A season high 485 total yards—388 on the ground—and five rushing touchdowns, three by Harkness.
Sophomore running back Billy Malliard ran for a career-high 226 yards and scored the game’s final touchdown to cut the lead to one, 40-39.
The emotional victory left players in a daze afterwards and for the sophomores who only got one chance to try out the field, words were hard to find.
Consider sophomore defensive lineman Darnell Coleman, who missed most of last season after tearing his anterior crucial ligament. He felt a mix of relief, pride, sadness and deep appreciation as his teammates celebrated around him.
“Today was a great way to go out,” Coleman said after racking up nine tackles and two forced fumbles, recovering one.
As both teams gathered for the annual postgame barbecue and fans left the stadium to the last drumbeats of the marching band, they knew they had seen a day they would never forget and neither would the school.
“It’s just wonderful,” Harkness said. “Everybody got to come down and celebrate a great football game.”
A simple, yet loaded statement for a school that now has to get used to having its own stadium.