Hartnell Football dropped a late-game thriller to Contra Costa, 37-35, at Contra Costa on Sept. 18.
But that was as close as they would get to victory. Hartnell countered every move the Contra Costa Comets made all day. Following an opening score by the Comets, the Panthers marched down the field and scored on a 1-yard run by Garcia.
"After a rough start, turning the ball over and Contra Costa scoring a touchdown, we were able to settle down and compete," said Head Coach Matt Collins.
The teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter. Garcia connected with Payton Flores for a 13-yard score. After another Comet score, the Panthers answered right before the half as Garcia again punched it in from the one.
"Entering halftime tied at 21 was a confidence boost for our team, knowing that we moved the ball on offense and our defense was making stops," Collins said.
The second half didn't start as planned. The Panthers turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions, which allowed Contra Costa to capitalize and take the lead 30-21.
But the Panthers never gave up. Defensive lineman Nefetalai Pututau sparked the sideline as he recovered a fumble and took it to the house for 42 yards, cutting the lead to 30-28 going into the final quarter.
"Overall we played with much more passion and confidence" than in the previous week's opening loss to Foothill, Collins said.
The Comets extended their lead to 37-28 as they rushed for a touchdown before the Garcia-to-Luke pass brought the Panthers just shy of victory.
Running back Payton Flores had 14 carries for 66 yards, and he hauled in three passes for 37 yards and a TD. Ryan Luke had five receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown. Angel Olivas had four receptions for 77 yards.
Garcia complete on 14 of 21 attempts for 241 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Defensively, Ricky Weimer tallied 10 tackles (seven solo) with one interception and a broken pass. Abel Escobar contributed seven tackles, and Jayson Flores added seven tackles and an interception. Pututau collected four tackles and recovered a fumble, running it back for a touchdown.
"Our coaching staff are proud of how our players responded to the first week loss to Foothill," Collins said. "We are excited to get back to work in efforts to get that first win next week at home against Los Medanos College." Hartnell will host the Mustangs at 6 p.m. on Sept. 25 in Rabobank Stadium.