Yellowjackets playoff bound after dramatic victory over Notre Dame, 50-46

Colton’s offense rolls; defense struggles, but comes up with huge play in last minute to seal the victory and the school’s first playoff berth since 2018


Annaleigha Garcia

Nathaniel Martinez drops Notre Dame’s Julian Mercado at the Colton 16-yard line to win the game and secure a Yellowjacket playoff berth.

Colton, CA—A tackle by Nathaniel Martinez in the game’s final seconds sealed another victory for the Colton Yellowjackets over Riverside Notre Dame, earning the team their first CIF playoff berth in five years.

In a back-and-forth game between league opponents, Colton found themselves on the ropes up 50-46 with 1:35 left on the clock. The defense just gave up a 22-yard touchdown pass to Titan wide receiver Julian Mercado, and special teams failed to secure an onside kick, gifting Notre Dame one more chance to score, down by only four, but in need of a touchdown to win.

Notre Dame started at the Colton 48-yard line, and immediately picked up where they left off on their previous drive, jetting to the Colton 3-yard line with 29 seconds remaining.

That was when the defense found its heart.

On the next play, a swarm of Yellowjackets pushed Mercado back to the 6-yard line, but the last of Colton’s 18 penalties on the night was called, erasing the advantage. Then Martinez, on Senior Night, in front of his home crowd, in what was likely his final home game as a Yellowjacket, charged off the line of scrimmage for the game’s final play, and forced Mercado back to the Colton 16, ending Notre Dame’s hopes of spoiling Colton’s playoff bid.

“I saw a perfect hole,” Martinez said. “And perfectly I went through. I got the running back and I stripped the ball. And I pushed him back and time ran out.”

This was a fitting end to a game which in many ways mirrored the season preceding it. Going into this game, Colton was primed to cruise to their third straight victory and fourth in five games. The Titans came into Memorial Stadium with only two wins on the season. 

However, the Yellowjackets proved to be their own worst enemy, giving up yards on ticky-tack penalties, and at some points playing down to their competition. They made the game harder than it had to be, and were not helped out by an officiating crew that allowed the game to become heated and bitter as it wore on.

Colton fought through the obstacles, both internal and external, and won.

“This is an amazing feeling,” said quarterback Gabriel Aparicio about the opportunity to compete in a playoff game. “And for a game to go like this . . . you can’t ask for a better ending. This shows what we’re made of.”

Aparicio had another excellent game for the Yellowjackets on Senior Night, marking the last home game of his high school career. He threw for 204 yards on 9-for-13, with four touchdowns and only one interception.

Colton’s offense was in top form from the kickoff. They established the run game right away with Xavier Sandoval and James Gonzales taking turns tearing up the backfield. Gonzales scored on an 8-yard opening drive run to put the Yellowjackets up, followed by a successful 2-point conversion by Sandoval.

Sandoval finished the game with 277 total yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 2-point conversions. Notre Dame had no answer for his slippery running attack all night. He also played defense, nabbing an interception to end the first half.

Colton looked like they would run away with this one after their second score on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Aparicio to Mateo Barboza and another 2-point conversion by Sandoval put them up 16-3. But Notre Dame scored on their next two possessions to get within 16-15.

By the end of the first half, Colton looked like it found the right formula, going into the break up 30-23. Sandoval had two touchdowns and the interception that stopped Notre Dame’s late half rally.

An interception by Damian Sanchez to open the second half set up a 69-yard touchdown pass from Aparicio to Sandoval on the Yellowjackets’ first possession, giving them a commanding 36-23 lead. Then Aparicio found Sandoval again for a 30-yard touchdown pass on the next drive to go up 42-26.

Notre Dame didn’t quit, however. Taking advantage of a struggling Colton defense that looked tired and out of sync, junior running back Aidan Taylor racked up 206 yards and a touchdown. Freshman back Damar Robinson also punched his way into the endzone for three touchdowns. They also got a significant contribution from their kicker, Dominic Ozeta, who knocked two field goals through the uprights, including a 38-yard attempt in the third quarter.

Some were concerned that perhaps Notre Dame brought more than just their best fight. There were several late tackles after the whistles that led to Colton injuries, one of which turned out to be severe. On a play midway through the second quarter, one of their safeties made a late tackle on a Colton receiver that stopped the game for several minutes and resulted in the player not returning to the game. The play seemed to draw celebration from the Titan fans, which stirred up some unrest on the Colton sideline and homestand.

The victory puts Colton at 4-1 in Skyline League play and 5-5 overall on the season. They are ranked #9 in CIF Southern Section Division 13 and will play #8 Cerritos next Friday, November 4 at Cerritos High School.

“It’s my first time in the playoffs,” said Colton Suchil. “I think it’s big. I don’t want this to be over yet. We’re planning on going a few more games.”