|Cougars blank Wildcats, face Montgomer in key NBL matchup
Next week's North Bay League contest between Rancho Cotate and Montgomery is a lot more interesting now.
Rancho Cotate's methodical 28-0 victory over Ukiah Friday night at Cougars Stadium coupled with Montgomery's 31-25 overtime victory over Cardinal Newman sets up what is likely to be one of many good tussles for the Cougars. Next Friday's game is at 7:30 p.m. at Montgomery High in Santa Rosa. Both teams enter at 4-1 overall, while the Cougars are 2-0 in the NBL and the Vikings are 1-1. Montgomery lost its league opener to unbeaten Casa Grande of Petaluma.
"I just heard that Montgomery had beaten Cardinal Newman, so it's a little bigger game for us," Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy said after addressing his team after the game.
With such a significant contest approaching, the Cougars will have to take care of the ball much better than they did against the Wildcats. Rancho Cotate turned the ball over four times, including two fumbles deep in Wildcats territory. But the defense was a steadying force for the Cougars. Had the Cougars been able to hold onto the ball, the margin of victory would have been greater than it was.
"It felt like we were sleepwalking through the first half, I don't know what it was," Conroy said. "We didn't play as well as we could have. But we did what we had to do to get the win."
Conroy was particularly proud of his defense because they were without two of their top performers, cornerback Josh Belda and middle linebacker Tanoa Peleti. The offensive side of the ball was missing key players in lineman Kevin Ferreira and tight end Danny Ngo. Also, starting running back Malik Newton injured a hip on a scoring run in the second quarter and saw limited action the rest of the way.
The Cougars' first two scores were the result of two spectacular individual plays on the part of receiver Chris Taylor-Yamanoha and Newton in the first half.
Yamanoha put Rancho Cotate on the scoreboard first by making a diving grab of Gunner Mefferd's pass in the end zone after beating Ukiah's cornerback on a quick slant from 4-yards out. His catch punctuated a 21-yard drive that resulted from a botched snap on a punt attempt by the Wildcats.
Newton extended the Cougars' lead to 14-0 by tacking a screen pass from Colin Nicks and weaving through the Wildcats' defense for a 57-yard score, breaking a couple of tackles along the way.
The Cougars had an opportunity for a three-touchdown lead late in the second half, but Ukiah defensive tackle David Schuler picked off Mefferd's middle screen pass intended for Cale Tuttle at the Wildcats' 11.
A promising Ukiah drive in the third quarter fell apart when a chop-block penalty nullified a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Gabe Knight to Ferrick Thomas. Because it was a spot-of-the-foul penalty, the ball was spotted at the Cougars' 22. The Wildcats gave the ball up on downs.
Two plays later, the Cougars made them pay when Carlos Franco burst off tackle and sprinted down the left sideline for a 77-yard touchdown run with a little more than 4 minutes left in the third quarter to push the Cougars' lead to 21-0.
Rancho Cotate took advantage of a 27-yard punt return to the Wildcats' 33 by Joey Trono for its next score. Senior Jomel Mava scored his first touchdown of the season on a 15-yard pass from Mefferd with 13.5 seconds remaining in the third quarter, which gave the Cougars a 28-0 cushion and effectively ended the competitive phase of the contest.
Franco was the Cougars' leading rusher with 89 yards on eight carries. Rancho Cotate finished with 247 yards rushing. Mefferd connected on 9 of 15 passes for 56 yards.