|Cougars snuff Newman 21-14
Rancho Cotate linemen control the action in crucial NBL victory
Sometimes, the difference between winning and losing a football game comes down to a coach showing some brass. Some of Rancho Cotate head coach Ed Conroy's decisions during Friday night's 21-14 victory over Cardinal Newman may have raised some eyebrows, but when all was said and done, his confidence in his players ruled the night.
Rancho Cotate improved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the North Bay League with the victory over the defending NBL champion Cardinals (8-1 overall, 5-1 NBL) and will host Santa Rosa next Friday in the season finale at Cougar Stadium.
The first of Conroy's eyebrow-raising decisions came late in the second quarter with his team holding a 13-0 lead. They Cougars drove from their own 25 to the Cardinals 7, mainly powered by his offensive line's ability to open gaping holes in the Cardinals' defensive front. The Cougars, with a first down on the 11, threw three straight passes, completing one for 4 yards. On fourth-and-6, Conroy eschewed a short field goal attempt and a possible 16-0 lead in favor of another pass to the end zone. Quarterback Michael Courchaine's pass fell incomplete.
Cardinal Newman then drove 93 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown with 2:25 left in the half to cut the lead to 13-7.
Another choice which raised the level of angst was on fourth-and-1 with the score at 21-14 from Rancho Cotate's 34 late in the game. Instead of punting with less than 2 minutes remaining and relying on a defense which had put the clamps on the Cardinals' offense, Conroy went for the first down. This time, it worked out as fullback Fono Misi powered his way for the first down.
"I didn't want to give them the ball back," Conroy said of his decision. But as it turns out, "They ended up getting the ball back anyway."
Three plays after Misi's first down, Conroy was faced with another tough call. Would he run the ball on third-and-6 to keep the clock moving or would he pass for the first down? His choice was to pass, but the snap to Courchaine, who was in the shotgun, sailed over his head, forcing a punt.
The Cardinals' final drive, however, was snuffed when freshman Chris Taylor-Yamanoha intercepted a pass by Keaton Dunsford.
"Looking back on it now, I probably would have run the damn ball," a jubilant Conroy said.
Newman gave Rancho Cotate a feeling of déjà vu when Jacob Webb took the second half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and a 14-13 Cardinal Newman lead.
Last year, the Cardinals hit the Cougars with a return for a touchdown by Steven Tomasin on the second half kickoff to deflate the Cougars and take them out of the game.
This time, however, the Cougars showed a much more steely resolve.
"Our quarterback came up to us and said 'championship teams bounce back,' so we responded as we were told and we just bounced back," said offensive guard A.J. Davison.
Said Conroy, "We're not a perfect team, but we played tough. I think it was more of a mindset that we're going to get it done no matter who's there."
Late in the third quarter, with the Cougars trailing 14-13, running back Jalon Luque (166 yards, 22 carries) struck the telling blow with an 82-yard burst up the middle for a touchdown behind a crunching block by Davison.
"A.J. just hit his guy like it was nothing," Reynolds said.
Said Davison, "I just saw Jalon run past me, and I knew he was gone."
Davison and Reynolds anchored the offensive and defensive lines, and both sides of the ball were nothing short of dominant. Cardinal Newman running back Kenny Carter found little running room and Dunsford was sacked five times, including twice by Reynolds.
"We wanted to beat them off the line and we knew if we did that we'd be successful," Reynolds said. "We definitely felt like we had control of the line of scrimmage."
Rancho Cotate's scored on its first possession, marching 70 yards in eight plays. Thomas Sory capped the drive by hauling in a spectacular one-handed catch from 32 yards out. Rodrigo Lopez's kick put the Cougars up 7-0.
Two plays into Cardinal Newman's ensuing possession, Joshua Belda stepped in front of a Dunsford pass at the 35 and weaved his way through traffic en route to the end zone and a 13-0 Rancho Cotate lead.
Davison took extra pleasure in this victory.
"I was a sophomore when we beat Newman two years ago, and last year, all my friends came up to varsity and we didn't get it done," Davison said. "This year, it was special beating Newman because it was with my friends."
Rancho Cotate will host Santa Rosa next Friday for the season finale at Cougar Stadium. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.