|Cougarsí defense bottles up Vikings
RC to tangle with rugged Gauchos for homecoming
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 for the game’s final points.
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," said Misi, who also scored a touchdown in the first quarter. "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 in 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."
Casa Grande, according to coach Trent Herzog, has been eyeing this game for quite some time.
“Big, big one,” Herzog told the Press Democrat. “We’ve had this one on our calendar. We’re excited to have an opportunity to play them.”
The Gauchos will bring their two-headed monster – junior quarterback JaJuan Lawson and 285-pound University of Washington-bound senior running back Elijah Qualls ¬– into this key matchup. Lawson is efficient as a passer and lethal as a runner. In last week’s 35-10 over Maria Carrillo, Lawson completed 10 of 15 passes for 208 yards and rushed for 106 yards on 12 carries. Qualls, with the Pumas’ defense geared to stop him, had 79 yards on 16 carries.
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.
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. Luque’s 23-yard scamper around the right end on an option play put the Cougars up 21-0. 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.