Former Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter made his San Quentin debut with the visiting Chosen Sports Ministry flag football team and led them to a 28-20 victory over the SQ All-Madden, in a tense battle.
“We are all people,” Walter said. “You have to compete no matter where you are. Being here is special. It’s about community. It’s about my faith in Jesus Christ. I know what it means to have everything taken away from you.
“It made me a much better person. We all have a unique trial to get to know who God is and do things differently,” Walter added.
Walter said he hasn’t played football since being in the New England Patriots training camp in 2009. He retired soon thereafter. Walter took to San Quentin’s tattered football field dressed in all black. His 6-foot-5-inch frame not only towered over most of the players, he was the only one not wearing cleats.
“Man, that guy used to warm up in flip-flops when he was in college,” said Evan Jones of the Chosen. Walter was quarterback for Arizona State University before being drafted by the Oakland Raiders.
The Oct. 21 game started with the All-Madden young defensive team blitzing Walter on every down, to show they were not intimidated. After numerous false starts and overthrown passes, Walters settled in and found Davide Ghilarducci in the middle of the field for a 20-yard first down.
On the next play, Walter, unfazed by the defensive pressure, dropped back and threw a 30-yard bomb to Chosen all-star receiver Antoine “AJ” Haynes, who made a one-handed, over-the-shoulder circus-like catch for the touchdown, with a defender riding his back.
The small crowd and both teams went crazy with oohs and aahs. A few defensive players waved off the pass and argued that he was out of bounds, but referee James Benson’s arms shot straight in the air, signaling it was good. It was a highlight that would have been replayed on any NFL big screen.
“It’s always humbling being here,” Haynes said. “It’s about service. I want the guys to know every day is a blessing. Keep dreaming and keep your head up, because it could always be worse.”
Chosen led 6-0 after missing the 2-point conversion. All-Madden answered back quickly with a series of run plays to loosen up the Chosen defense. Quarterback Devin Cole hit running back Anastacio Prado on a down-and-out play.
Prado spun away from two defenders, who missed his flags, leaving him a clear path to the end zone to tie the score 6-6. All-Madden failed to get the 2-point conversion.
“It’s about discipline,” Cole said. “We struggled as a team, but we fought back. We just have to learn to trust in the system. We thank the Chosen for coming in.; it’s always good to reconnect with the (outside) community.”
Walter continued to dominate in the first half. After an off-side penalty on the defense, he threw another bomb for 45 yards to player-coach Andre Jackson, who made a diving catch. It took all four downs before Walter found Omar Bennett in the back of the end zone for the 12-6 lead.
“What we bring from the outside in is positivity,” Bennett said. “If you put positivity in, God will give it back to you. What we get from coming here is always a win-win for all of us.”
The Chosen defense stepped up with Aaron Jones and Evan Jones pressuring Cole, the quarterback. E. Jones batted down a pass, and A. Jones open up a hole that had Cole sacked in the end zone for a safety.
That extended the Chosen lead to 14-6. The All-Madden offense went cold and turned the ball over on downs, leaving the Chosen with two minutes on the clock. Walter chipped away at Madden’s secondary by throwing short passes to move the chains to the goal line.
On second and goal, Walter split the defense for a Ghilarducci touchdown, which led to a 20-6 halftime lead.
Pastor Joel Moore gave a brief sermon during halftime on the importance of counting your pains and joys.
“You have to count forward and back to the pain,” Moore said, “because that is your testimony. God is preparing you. When you are being tried, that means you are being chosen.
“Count your good and bad times; then you will have complete joy. It’s never too late to change and have victory,” Moore concluded.
All-Madden opened the second half on a mission. Head coach Dwight Kennedy mixed a few seasoned veterans in with his young team. Jason Jones came in to cover Haynes, and T. Sayres took over nose guard. Sayres sacked Walter twice, once for a safety, igniting the team.
All-Madden went back to the run, and Cole threw a deep ball that put them on the two-yard line.
On second and goal Jason Jones scored on a slash play to the corner of the end-zone and closed the gap, 14-20.
All-Madden’s defense became active, flushing Walter out the pocket and knocking down his passes. Tofa Sekona and Brontray Moore each blocked two passes. With three minutes left in the game, All-Madden offense was on the move to score, but an interception by Bennett stopped the momentum.
The Chosen weren’t content with running out the clock. Walter found A. Jackson on two deep passes that set up a game-clinching touchdown by Haynes. On the two-point conversion the Chosen pulled out a trick play that had Walter run a bootleg play to Jackson. Jackson scrambled while Walter eased out to the goal line for the catch and the 28-14 lead.
With 40 seconds left, Cole caught the Chosen defense sleeping and hit receiver Kent Craig for a 20-yard pass. Craig shook a defender for 20 more yards, but speedster Haynes ran him down. Craig scored the next and final play, for a 28-20 finish.
“It’s not how you start, but how you finish,” Pastor Wayne Jackson said. “Don’t let no one take away your joy. The world didn’t give it to you, so it can’t take it away from you.”