Cold air, bright lights and the raucous cheer of the crowd welcomed the Rancho Cotate Cougars back to their stadium Aug. 17 for their first game of the new season against the Sacramento Dragons which ended with victory and a score of 16-12. Big moments: those are what made the difference against the Dragons in the first half. While skills and the fundamentals kept the pendulum from swinging, it was the Cougar’s keen eye for opportunity that helped them seize the opening lead.
“Their line was phenomenal,” said Joseph McCray, the Dragon’s head coach. “They executed well, they blocked well and they’re a very well coached team. They just got the early start that we couldn’t overcome.” It was a vicious back and forth for the first quarter of the game.
Dragon’s linebacker, Sherman Gay, managed a diving interception at his team’s fifteen-yard line after the Dragons pressured and jostled the Cougar’s quarterback, Jared Stocker, on a throw. Things looked bleak, but then the Cougars responded with an interception of their own only a few plays later. Defensive back and wide receiver, Riley Cronin, snatched the ball right out of the Dragon’s fingertips then tore off down the field for a 17-yard return. That set the next play up perfectly when Cougar’s running back, Rashid Rankin, took the ball for a 10- yard jaunt through Dragon lines to score the game’s first touchdown.
“I’m just proud of my guys. Proud of them. I love them to death. Their effort overcame all obstacles tonight,” said Cougar’s head coach, Gehrig Hotaling.
While the first quarter belonged to the Cougars, the second was the Dragon’s. They managed to rally with a few touchdowns that brought them within nipping distance of the Cougar’s score, but a pair of failed two-point conversions left them just shy of a tie.
“Tonight we complimented our defense well,” said Hotaling on the subject of his team’s offense. “We did put them in a couple of bad spots, but it’s our first game and Sacramento is tremendous. They’re a big time division one from the state’s capital and we’re just a little old team from Rohnert Park. To come out with a victory is amazing.” The Cougars lost nine of their starters last season to graduation—the core of their offensive line. While they brought up some fantastic talent from the junior varsity division, it takes time for a new team to work together.
One of the new faces on the Cougar’s offense is their quarterback, Jared Stocker, who replaced last year’s quarterback, Jake Simmons. Simmons left some big cleats to fill when he graduated, but Stocker feels confident that he’s up to the task.
“Ultimately I’m not trying to be Jake—I’m trying to be Jared,” said Stocker. “I just want to be the best that I can be.”
The Cougars didn’t escape their fight against the Dragons without a few singed whiskers. James Parker, Nathan Fredlun, and Rasheed Rankin all suffered injuries which caused them to be assisted off the field. If the players aren’t able to recover before their next game, it could prove disastrous for the Cougar’s roster.
The health of the boys seemed to worry Hotaling. He claimed that he would check on them in the hospital that evening.
“We’ve gotta lick our wounds. It’s a long season,” Hotaling said.
The next challenge for the Cougars will be down in Fairfield against the Vanden Vikings. The game will take place on Aug. 24.