|Cougars' defense completely shuts down Montgomery
Luque's 223 yards overshadowed by dominant defensive effort
It's rare when a 200-plus yard rushing performance is not the highlight of a football game, but such was the case Friday night when Rancho Cotate flattened Montgomery 34-0 at Cougar Stadium.
The Cougars' defense was the story of this game, as it held the Vikings to less than 100 yards total offense and did not allow them to cross midfield until 6 minutes, 21 seconds remained in the contest. Rancho Cotate's defense also intercepted three passes, including a 60-yard return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter by Joshua Belda. Montgomery's offense ran only one play in Rancho Cotate territory, and it resulted in Belda's pick-six. The other two interceptions - by senior Carlos Soto and freshman Chris Taylor-Yamanoha - led to touchdown drives.
Rancho Cotate improved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the North Bay League.
Middle linebacker Fono Misi, the heart and soul of the defense, knew the Cougars were getting the better of it, but he had no idea it was as dominant a performance perhaps in school history.
"Man, I didn't know they had only one play on our side," he said. "We work hard every day, and we feel the defense is the strongest part of our team."
Coach Ed Conroy was just as surprised.
"We knew we were playing pretty well, but ... I was totally unaware they didn't cross midfield," Conroy said.
Actually, Conroy was more concerned with a rash of injuries that struck his offensive line. Center Nick Reynolds left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. The day before in practice, starting offensive lineman Steven De Souza suffered an undisclosed injury. Reynolds' absence meant tackle Tyler Rosentreter had to move to center. Rosentreter, a senior, had never played the center position and had never even snapped a ball in practice. But he held his own and helped the Cougars establish a dominant running game against the Vikings.
"I thought I did all right," Rosentreter said. "After the first couple of snaps, it didn't really feel much different."
Whether it was Reynolds or Rosentreter at center, the offensive line cleared enough room for Jalon Luque to dart through and around the Vikings' defense for 223 yards on 18 carries.
"With all the injuries, I'll take this win and be happy about it," Conroy said. "With Nick, I think he'll be all right. The doctor said if we really don't need him to go back in, he should just sit it out."
Now, the Cougars get to the meat of their schedule. The Cougars next Friday will host Petaluma's Casa Grande in what is expected to be one of the top games of the year in the NBL. If it's anything like last year's North Coast Section Div. II second-round playoff game, it will be something to see. The Cougars outlasted the Gauchos 42-35.
This will be Casa Grande's first foray into Cougar Stadium as an NBL member. It was a member of the Sonoma County League last year but was moved into the NBL this year because of its football prowess. The Gauchos (5-1 overall, 3-0 NBL) defeated Maria Carrillo 35-10 on Friday night to set up the showdown. It also will be the Cougars' homecoming game, which concerns Conroy a little, but not Misi.
"We don't let homecoming interfere with what we have to do," Misi said. "We'll practice hard and play hard."
If there was an area where the Cougars were not up to par, it was in the passing game. Michael Courchaine threw three interceptions, all of which thwarted potential scoring drives as they were deep in Montgomery territory. But he did help the offense by converting key third downs during the Cougars' first two scoring drives. He also threw one touchdown pass.
Rancho Cotate drew first blood when Misi, at fullback, battered his way into the end zone from 5 yards out to cap a quick four-play, 45-yard drive. The drive was set up by an interception by Taylor-Yamanoha.
Luque took an option pitch from Courchaine 35 yards down the right sideline on the series' first play. Misi scored three plays later. The point-after attempt failed, leaving the score at 6-0 with 6:59 remaining in the opening period.
Luque went airborne from 2 yards out for the Cougars' second score, capping a seven-play, 60-yard drive. Courchaine and Thomas Sory connected for the two-point conversion, giving Rancho Cotate a 14-0 lead with 3:34 remaining in the first. Soto gave the Cougars favorable field position with an interception. The three key plays in the drive were a 28-yard run up the middle by Luque, an 11-yard reception by Thomas Sory and an 11-yard, third-down scramble for a first down by Courchaine.
The Cougars, on their opening drive of the second half, put together a methodical eight-play, 68-yard drive for their third score of the game and a 21-0 lead. Luque finished it with a 23-yard scamper around the right end on an option play. He also had a 21-yard run in the drive. But the pivotal play was a nine-yard run up the middle by Misi on fourth-and-1 from the 39.
A 3-yard scoring pass from Courchaine to tight end Mike Ruiez upped the Cougars' lead to 28-0 with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter. The score capped a 24-yard drive made possible by a 21-yard punt return by Taylor-Yamanoha after the Vikings were forced to punt from their end zone.