Nassau Community College quarterback Jordan Rodriguez knew it the second he threw it.
As the Lions' 6-foot-2, 225-pound sophomore released the ball, he saw Arizona Western safety Pat Martin step in front of the pass. Rodriguez watched as Martin intercepted the pass and return it 44 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
It was one of three Nassau miscues that directly or indirectly led to three Arizona Western touchdowns in the Matadors' 42-37 win in the 2012 El Toro Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Martin's interception for a touchdown gave the Matadors their first lead of the game at 14-7.
“I think I was a little late on the throw. (Martin) made a great play and jumped the hook and took it back for six,” Rodriguez said.
After Matador quarterback Taylor McEvoy found sophomore tight end Emmanuel Bibbs for a 35-yard touchdown to make it 21-14 with 1:21 left in the first half, Rodriguez responded with three straight incompletions and Nassau lined up to punt. But the snap from freshman Dennis Long went over the head of punter John Scelfo, who fruitlessly tried to kick the loose ball away before Matador defensive back Dominique Blackmon scooped it up and ran three yards to make it 28-14.
“That was the first time (all year), how about that?” Nassau coach Curtis Guilliam said about the high snap. “I think he just got a little nervous and threw the ball over the guy's head.”
The Lions opened up the second half with a 79-yard drive that ended on a 12-yard score by sophomore Louis Johnson that cut the Matadors' lead to 28-24. Nassau had forced the Matadors into punting, but the Lions ran into Arizona Western punter Tilghman Harvey — resulting in a first down. Four plays later, Matador running back J.C. Baker scored on a 47-yard run to give them 35-24.
“That's the game of football,” Guilliam said. “They don't want to make a mistake, we don't want to make a mistake, but things happen.”
The Matadors' performance wasn't flawless, either. Arizona Western quarterback Tanner McEvoy threw a pair of interceptions — one returned for a 91-yard touchdown by outside linebacker Thomas Joyce and another returned to the 1-yard line by sophomore linebacker Amara Kamara.
Nassau also had potential plays that could have changed the outlook of the game.
After Rodriguez threw the interception to Martin, the Lions responded by going on a long drive and faced a third-and-6 on the Matador 12-yard line. Rodriguez dropped back to pass but was sacked by Arizona Western defensive end Sam Wren. A false start pushed the Lions back five yards then Matador defensive back Nate Willis blocked the 35-yard field goal attempt.
“We had a couple hiccups here and there, but as a defense we stopped them when we needed to,” Martin said. “We stopped them down here, blocked that field goal. If they score there it's an entirely different game. It was a stepping stone to getting this win.”
Trailing 35-24 late in the third quarter, Arizona Western freshman Markeith Ambles muffed a punt and allowed Nassau's Bruce Parker to recover the ball. However, Parker couldn't hold on and the Matadors kept possession and scored later that drive to make it 42-24, which turned out to be the decisive touchdown.
“No one play decided this game. It was two good football teams,” Guilliam said. “Everybody brought their all and kudos to them. I'm happy for them. But I'd love to see them again.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.