Tears streaked the cheeks of the Rancho Cotate Cougars as they gathered together for their post-game huddle after their 7-2 semifinal loss Fri., Nov. 30th against the Marin Catholic Wildcats.
The loss marks the end of the Cougars’ season as well as their bid for the NCS Division 2 Championship title. It’s the fifth year in a row now that the Cougars have fallen short at the semifinals, and that comes as a particularly strong blow given how dominant the team was in the season prior. They opened the championship by tearing through Casa Grande, 55-7, then followed that up with another crushing victory, 42-7, against American Canyon.
This year seemed to belong to Rancho Cotate, but tragedy struck in their match against American Canyon when the Cougars’ starting quarterback, Jared Stocker, suffered a concussion. Their backup quarterback, Ryan Hoxsie, stepped up.
“Hoxsie performed as good as he could given the circumstances. He barely played all year and we put him in some impossible positions today due to penalties,” Gehrig Hotaling, Cougar head coach, said. “That’s tough for any quarterback let alone somebody who’s starting their first semifinal varsity playoff game. I think he played admirably.”
The game began rather poorly for the Cougars. The Wildcats stole momentum when they stopped the Cougars’ first drive at 4th and inches. The Cougars regained possession a few minutes later, but their offense failed to capitalize and punted from deep within their own territory.
A bad snap sent the ball over the outstretched fingers of Cougar punter, Andrew Alfaro. Alfaro recovered the ball, but he did so at the team’s own 7- yard line. The Wildcats could not have asked for a better scoring position. They sent their running back, Gaven Cooke, right up the middle on the next play for a touchdown.
If it could be said that the Cougar offense struggled, then it could also be
said that their defense picked up the slack.
The Wildcat’s next drive began slowly—that is until Gaven Cooke found a hole in the Cougar’s defensive line. He slipped up the side on the Wildcat’s third down and managed a 33-yard gain. This gain deposited the ball at the Cougar’s 16-yard line with seconds to go in the first quarter.
The Cougar line held, though. They put up a vicious defense, sacking the quarterback twice and pushing the Wildcats back out of Cougar territory. The Wildcats went for a field goal but the kick went wide and careened off the pitch.
“They did a great job stiffing up in the red zone. We couldn’t punch it in there,” Wildcat head coach Mazi Moayed said. “Those guys were really tough. We were just able to make one more play than they could.”
As if to prove stopping the first field goal hadn’t been the fluke, the Cougars did it again later in the second quarter.
The Wildcat running back, Gaven Cooke, found another hole in the Cougar defense for a 22-yard charge. His team followed it up with a short pass to their wide receiver, Matteo Perez, who deposited the ball within spitting distance of the Cougar goal line. Just under 15-yards separated the Wildcats from clinching the game, but the Cougar defense pulled together. A combination of yellow flags and sacks shoved the Wildcats back. They attempted another field goal and that one failed too.
It all came down to the last couple of minutes of the match. The Cougar’s finally found purchase when they forced a turnover on downs at their own 6-yard line. A combination of a pass interference foul and string of strong runs saw the Cougars making their first real foray into Wildcat territory.
But the ticking clock forced the Cougars to rely on their passing game. They threw an interception to Wildcat cornerback, Matt Jacobson, who caught the ball at the Wildcat’s own 6-yard line. The Cougar defense held strong. Three quick plays later the Wildcats found themselves on their 4th down facing a turnover still at their own 6-yard line. Rather than risk a punt, the Wildcats retreated and gave the Cougars a safety. The Cougars returned the kickoff to the Wildcat’s 43-yard line with a minute left on the clock. There was still hope.
But then the Cougar offense threw another interception to Cooke and the game was over.
“Above all else be proud of what you accomplished!” Hotaling shouted at the team gathered around him. “You’re Rancho Cotate Cougars! Nobody can take that away from you. It hurts and it stings. I know. With time it will get better and you’ll look back fondly at these memories.”
As the lights in the stadium shut off one by one and the crowd drifted apart, Cougar seniors bid farewell to friends they’d played with for years. A loss is a bitter way to end a season, but closing one chapter means opening another. The Cougars will return next year ready for more.
“The coaches always tell us to leave high school with no regrets,” departing Cougar Connor Barbato said. “I don’t have any,”