|Cougars reach NCS semis
Offensive line, Luque power RC over Las Lomas 21-14
Rancho Cotate High's football team has a spot in the North Coast Section Div. II semifinals because Jalon Luque and the Cougars' offensive line would settle for nothing less.
On a rainy Friday evening at Cougar Stadium, the Cougars could have easily collapsed under an avalanche of nine fumbles of which, fortunately for them, only three were recovered by Las Lomas High of Walnut Creek. Still, despite a 21-14 victory improving the Cougars' record to 11-0, the fumbles gnawed at Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy.
"I don't know what the total was, but I know it was way too many fumbles," Conroy said. "I think the weather did contribute to it some, but we didn't do some things very well, and that also contributed to tonight's game.”
The Cougars will be at home on Saturday, Nov. 24, for a semifinal game against Walnut Creek’s Northgate (9-2), which crushed Newark Memorial 30-6 on Nov. 17.
Northgate will bring a balanced offense into Saturday night’s game, led by quarterback Joe Pellitiere, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in a downpour against Newark Memorial. Receiver Jake Smith hauled in five passes for 85 yards, while Brandon Lee had four catches for 58 yards. The Broncos’ rushing attack has two potent backs in Jimmy Sharpe and Fisi Tavake, who ran for 89 and 84 yards, respectively, against Newark Memorial.
The Broncos also boast a strong defense, as last week, Newark Memorial’s offense didn’t score. The only points Northgate gave up came on an interception return for a touchdown. Whereas Northgate’s offense ran efficiently, Rancho Cotate’s did not.
The Cougars had problems all night with the center-quarterback exchange, as several plays were lost because quarterback Michael Courchaine was diving on the ground to retrieve fumbles. "It was so slippery out there," Courchaine said. "We tried getting the new balls every play but it wasn't working. It's frustrating. It's irritating when you can't get your offense going and you can't throw the ball because it's so wet."
Luque knew the weather conditions would force the Cougars to focus the offense on the running game. Given Luque's stellar outings thus far, both Cougars coach Ed Conroy and Luque knew feeding the standout runner the ball was a no-brainer. And Luque responded with 184 rushing yards on 18 carries.
"We knew it was going to rain, so I expected to get the ball every single time," Luque said.
Luque, buoyed by a methodically efficient effort by the offensive line, was the driving factor in all three of Rancho Cotate's scoring drives.
With both teams committing myriad errors in the first half, the game was scoreless until late in the second quarter. Las Lomas had driven to the Cougars' 30, where it attempted a 47-yard field goal. The kick by the Knights' Mitchell Howard, however, was woefully short, and the Cougars' Joshua Belda retrieved the ball on the 6 and returned it to the Cougars' 40.
Luque, on the scoring drive that went 60 yards in nine plays, ran the ball six times for 43 yards. An 11-yard touchdown pass from Michael Courchaine to freshman Chris Taylor-Yamanoha finally broke the scoring drive. And Rodrigo Perez's extra-point kick put the Cougars up 7-0 with 1 minute, 8 seconds remaining in the half.
With the score tied at 7-7, Rancho Cotate marched 84 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown to take the lead for good. Luque spun into the end zone from 7 yards out with 47 seconds remaining in the third. Luque on the drive ran the ball seven times for 79 yards.
Rancho Cotate's defense stiffened on the Knights' ensuing possession, forcing a punt which gave the Cougars the ball on their 34. On the only play of the drive, Luque burst up the middle for a 66-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 21-7 cushion with 9:57 remaining in the game.
The Knights, on their next possession, drove from their 26 to the Cougars' 10 before giving the ball up on downs. The Cougars, however, committed a slew of errors, fumbling the snap on three straight plays and were forced to punt. The Knights blocked the punt and recovered on the Rancho Cotate 5. Three plays later, Wood barreled into the end zone from a yard out with 1:31 remaining. The extra-point kick cut the Cougars' lead to 21-14.
Rancho Cotate finally sealed victory when, after recovering the onside kick, ran out the clock by taking a knee.
NCS Div. II playoffs
Saturday, 7 p.m.
• No. 3 Northgate (9-2) at
No. 2 Rancho Cotate (11-0)
• No. 5Concord (10-2) at
No. 1 Clayton Valley (10-1)
Northgate/Rancho Cotate winner vs. Concord/Clayton Valley winner (site and time TBA)