REDDING - With rain in the forecast on Saturday, the 2016 NCFC American Division Championship Bowl Game - featuring West Hills College Coalinga and host Shasta College - would come down to which team could best navigate the muddy field conditions and a steady three-hour downpour.
In the end, the Falcons - on their only overnight trip of the season - packed their dynamic running game and stingy defense in a season finale those in attendance won't soon forget.
West Hills ran the ball 62 times for 210 yards and three touchdowns and the defense held the state's second-highest scoring team scoreless for nearly three quarters - shocking unbeaten Shasta, 20-14, to win its second bowl game in the last three seasons.
The Knights (44.9 ppg avg) entered the game with a 10-0 record and a No. 1 ranking in Northern California's American Division. They also beat WHCC, 38-7, in Week 1 - and 51-14 in last season's same bowl game in Coalinga.
Saturday would be much different, as the Falcons overcame a sluggish start (trailing 7-0 and 14-7) to pull off California's biggest postseason upset of the year.
Freshman RB Joseph McDaniel (Bowl Game MVP) and sophomore RB Roy Sharpe (Offensive Player of the Game) traded snap after snap, and followed their big offensive line up and down a wet and sloppy Memorial Stadium field.
McDaniel, the team's best North-South runner, finished the game with 29 carries for 76 yards. His second rushing touchdown of the day, a 5-yard score, gave the Falcons a 20-14 lead with 7:02 remaining in the game.
The smaller Sharpe used his speed, bursting through holes for a game-high 130 yards on 24 carries. His 12-yard score tied the game at 14-14 with 14:32 in the fourth quarter.
The defense, led by a busy defenisve line and linebacking core, held the powerful Knights to 145 total yards (minus 7 yards passing) and just 11 first downs.
Shasta's first score came on a 70-yard punt return, as Carl Robertgeau proved that footing would take major skill on this day, as he weaved through sliding defenders and several missed tackles to the end zone.
A quick 7-0 lead gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about and early thoguhts about a perfect 11-0 season.
The Falcons remained poised and later answered with a 9-play, 56-yard drive, capped by McDaniel's two-yard score. Cameron Horsting's PAT tied the game at 7-7 with 3:04 left in the first quarter.
Shasta QB Tim Naylor scrambled for a 10-yard touchdown run on a 3rd-and-goal to give the Knights a 14-7 (kick good) lead with 14:09 to go in the second quarter.
The Knights would never threathen the red zone again.
WHCC defensive backs Tranealius Abrams and Tyron Vrede led the team with 9 tackles each; and sophomores DL Darrian McMillan, DB Justin Hayden, and LB Ualesi Sale made big plays during big moments to stop Shasta drives.
With less than four minutes to play, freshman punter Oscar Remigio picked the best time for his best punt of the season - a 64-yarder in the elements, downed at the four yard line - meaning the Knights needed to go 96 yards to tie and take the lead.
Vrede, along with freshman DL Joshua Parks and freshman DB Andreaz Spencer all made big stops on Shasta's final posession.
A fourth-and-17 desperation pass by Naylor was batted down by Hayden right in front of the Falcon sideline that soon after erupted in celebration.
Sophomore QB Vincent Espinoza was 5-for-7 passing (31 yards) and did a masterful job in handling 67 snaps from shotgun formation (only one bad snap) in the wet conditions - but three of his passes went for first downs: two by TE Thomas Odukoya and one to WR Martaz Boone).
Espinoza also threw a pass to WR Kris Lewis during the game-winning drive that drew an obvious defensive pass interference call to move the chains.
His final two snaps, No. 68 and 69, came from under center and victory formation.
A pair of kneel downs to run out the clock and send the Falcons home to Coalinga as champions.