|Cougars rally past Gauchos 28-7
Taylor-Yamanoha, stiff defense make the difference
Some members of Rancho Cotate High's football team took Friday night's game against Casa Grande a little more personal than normal.
The Cougars were determined not to let the Gauchos simply waltz into the league and start laying down a new set of laws. Through three quarters, it appeared as if the Sonoma County League imports were playing the role of the new sheriff as they carried a 7-6 lead into the fourth quarter. But freshman receiver Chris Taylor Yamanoha and the Cougars' defense restored order, and Rancho Cotate scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for a 28-7 homecoming victory.
"We definitely wanted to protect our house and show how we do things in the NBL," said Cougars senior Nick Reynolds, who plays center on offense and tackle on defense. "We were able to push their line back and gave our linebackers opportunities to make some tackles. Defensively, we were very well prepared."
Rancho Cotate remained unbeaten at 7-0 (4-0 in the NBL), while Casa Grande fell to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the NBL. The Cougars hit the road next Friday to face Maria Carrillo in Santa Rosa.
"We told the kids Casa Grande would be the best team we'll have played to date," Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy said. "They're a very good football team, but we did the things we had to do, especially in the fourth quarter."
Taylor-Yamanoha made two plays that made the difference on the drive which put the Cougars in the lead for good. The first was a 28-yard reception on a fade pattern to give the Cougars a first down on the Gauchos' 19. It appeared as if the drive would prove futile as Rodrigo Perez's 34-yard field goal missed badly to the left. But a roughing the kicker penalty gave Rancho a first down at the 8. Three plays later, Taylor-Yamanoha made a leaping reception in the back of the end zone for the score.
"When I saw the ball in the air, I knew all I had to do was go up there and get it," said Taylor-Yamanoha, who had five receptions for 43 yards
Rancho Cotate quarterback Michael Courchaine was 10-14 for 151 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Jalon Luque finished with 89 yards rushing on 14 carries.
The Cougars had not faced a stiff challenge through its first six games, but they knew they were in for a big test Friday, especially with the Gauchos bringing in a formidable one-two punch in quarterback JuJuan Lawson and University of Washington-bound, 285-pound fullback Elijah Qualls.
When the Gauchos' Jarred Roberts scored on a 69-yard pass from Lawson with 4 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the first quarter, it marked the first time this season the Cougars had trailed in a game.
"Something like this will help down the road because we got punched in the mouth, and it let us know we can come back," Reynolds said.
The Cougars cut the Gauchos' lead to 7-6 when fullback Tanoa Peleti plunged into the end zone from 2-yards out with 8:17 remaining in the second quarter. Joshua Belda's point-after attempt was wide right.
Carlos Soto extended the Cougars' lead to 21-7 when he scored on a bubble screen pass from 39 yards out with 5:16 remaining in the game. The Cougars were gifted with a short field after their defense on consecutive plays stuffed Qualls for no gain on third-and-1 and threw Lawson for a loss on fourth down.
The defense held Qualls to 31 yards on 13 carries.
On the Gauchos' ensuing possession, they tried a little trickery via a flea-flicker deep pass. But Luque wasn't fooled and intercepted the pass with a little more than 4 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Luque then put the game out of reach by sprinting off tackle and down the left sideline for a 45-yard touchdown run with 3:05 remaining.
"This was where our conditioning paid off," Conroy said. "I told the team, this is the result of all the hard work we put in during the summer. I thought we'd score more points tonight, but I also thought Casa Grande would put a lot more points on the board as well."