|Cougars survive football opener, 23-14
Courchaine throws two TDs to Soto in first varsity start; Luque rushes for 109 yards and TD in win over Alhambra
Ed Conroy admitted his Rancho Cotate High football team was not at its best in the season opener. While there may have been a slew of mistakes, the Cougars’ head coach had high praise for the effort his charges put forth in a 23-14 victory over Alhambra at Martinez on Aug. 31.
Tonight, Sept. 7, Rancho Cotate will line up against an all-too-familiar opponent in Pinole Valley. This will mark the fifth time in three seasons the two teams will have met. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Pinole Valley High.
Rancho Cotate has won the last three meetings with Pinole Valley, including two victories in the North Coast Section Div. II playoffs. That fact is not lost on Conroy.
“I’m pretty sure there’s going to be the revenge factor with them,” he said.
One would think playing a team four times over the past two years would bring a sense of familiarity, but the Spartans have a new coach in Luke Bodwin. He replaces the retired Steve Alameda, who had a record of 124-45-4 while at Pinole Valley.
Bodwin’s Spartans enter the game with Rancho Cotate at 1-1, having beaten Montgomery of Santa Rosa 38-28 and losing to Oakland Tech 45-21.
“We haven’t had a chance to see them play live, but we’ve watched the film, and the film doesn’t lie,” Conroy said. “They’ve got some big kids and good speed. It’s going to be a tough game.”
The Cougars’ first home game will be Sept. 14 against Petaluma. The game will be tied into the 50th anniversary of Rohnert Park becoming an incorporated city.
The Cougars made it tough on themselves in the second half when, after powering to a 20-0 lead, they committed 11 second-half penalties. The Bulldogs scored two touchdowns to pull to within 20-14 before a 32-yard field goal by Rodrigo Perez with less than a minute remaining sealed it for the Cougars.
“There were a lot of things we did well, but we hurt ourselves with penalties, especially in the second half,” Conroy said. “I thought our guys played quite well in the first half.”
The Cougars are breaking in a new set of players at the skill positions this season, and they have done some retooling of their offense. After one game, Conroy knows there is much room for improvement, but he was pleased with the offense’s progress, particularly quarterback Michael Courchaine, who backed up Ricky Garcia last year.
“We’ve struggled throwing the ball the past few years, and I’m learning to integrate the spread offense into what we do,” Conroy said. “I’m no pass-happy guy by any stretch, I still love to run the football.”
Courchaine had a solid outing in his first start at quarterback, completing 12 of 20 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns, both to receiver Carlos Soto. More importantly, he did not throw any interceptions and received solid protection from his revamped offensive line. Courchaine completed passes to six different receivers and was not sacked. Soto also was making his debut as a starting receiver for the Cougars.
“We had some injuries coming into the game and had to move a couple guys around,” Conroy said. “Nick Reynolds, who normally is our right tackle, moved to center, and Hector Hernandez came in at right guard for us. He’s still learning, but he did fine the first game.”
The offensive line also sprung running back Jalon Luque, a backup last year, for 109 yards on 23 carries.
The Cougars took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter when Courchaine and Soto connected on scoring passes of 22 and 7 yards. Perez missed the second extra-point attempt. Luque blasted into the end zone from 2 yards out in the second quarter to cap a 10-play, 90-yard drive for a 20-0 Rancho Cotate lead.
Alhambra sliced the Cougars’ lead in the fourth quarter to 20-7 on a 10-yard scoring pass from Leo Costa to Ethan Little. The Bulldogs made it a one-possession game at 20-14 when they blocked Perez’s punt, and Monte Cabrera recovered the ball in the end zone.