The Rancho Cotate Cougars captured the North Coast Section Division 3 Quarterfinal win from the Eureka Loggers with a final score of 38-35. The Cougars will advance to the division 3 semifinals to play Cardinal Newman in what Cougars Coach Gehrig Hotaling refers to as “The Trilogy.”
“We feel good going into the game,” he said regarding the quarterfinal game. A few missed field goals early in the game often kept the scores from being flush.
Rancho led touchdown tradeoffs and hitting the extra point with 4:06 minutes remaining in the first. Only minutes later the score was answered by a touchdown and a kick for 7-7. At 1:42 Cougars’ QB #3, Jake Simmons hit a long pass to receiver #1, Ward who took it home and with the kick by #45, Alfaro, Rancho popped the score back in favor of the home team, 14-7.
Top of the second at 11:48, Eureka scored but missed the verticals keeping the game in Rancho Cotate’s favor, 14-13. With 10: 33 in the second quarter, a second down pass play between #3 Simmons and receiver #17 Reese produced a 75-yard run into the end zone and with the good kick Rancho is bumped but it was fumbled and picked up by Eureka for a 52-yard touchdown run. With the two-point conversion, the scores were back to even, 21-21.
With 1:19 left of the second quarter, next possession, a relentless Logger defense kept the Cougars from moving the ball past their own 15-yard line. A bobbled punt sent the ball loose into the end zone, recovered by Eureka and ended with a touchdown. For the first time of the night the score tipped in favor of the Loggers, 27-21, with the Cougars to receive at the start of the second half.
There was a lot of action on the field but no numbers were added to the board for most of the third quarter. Despite a series of running plays with Rancho picking their way into Eureka’s territory the touchdown was denied and brought back for illegal forward passing. At 4th and 16, Simmons was sacked.
The fight for the semifinals continued as Eureka took advantage of an interception and ran to the 36. But it was then Eureka’s turn for a sack and a loss of 15 yards. No touchdown there. Eureka was forced to punt, but it was short, making it to their own 48, putting the Cougars in good position to do some damage. And damage they did, with another touchdown and kick, regaining control resulting in a one-point game, 28-27.
Eureka answered with another touchdown and their second two-point conversion of the night taking the lead to 35-28.
The Cougars suffered some challenges: more sacks and a 3rd down pass that looked destined to be the Cougars’ next touchdown but was tipped by Logger defense putting the possession back in Eureka’s hands. The returning punt went deep into Eureka territory and the visiting team struggled to move beyond their own 10-yard line.
Fourth quarter, 7:08 left in the game. Eureka pulled the ‘quarterback sneak’ to grab an important 1st down. They pushed for another but the play drew flags from all over the field - personal fouls on both sides - and at 4th down Eureka punted. 2:43 left in the playoff game, 35-28 Eureka. The Cougars have to score. They have all their time outs, the Loggers have none. Tension was tight as Simmons tried for a long pass - incomplete. Next play #3 runs the ball for an important 1st down. Next another long pass landing near the end zone in a crowd around the receiver - incomplete. 1:37 in the game, 3rd and 10 and it’s a Rancho Cotate 18-yard gain putting the ball on Eureka’s 37- yard line.
With 58 seconds in the game - Rancho passed into the end zone for the touchdown. The kick was good and the score was again tied at 35-35, with overtime play a possibility with 53 seconds left on the clock. The punt went deep into Eureka’s end zone. The Loggers first play was then fumbled and recovered by Rancho.
The strategy in the few final seconds was in controlling the clock: 2nd down and Simmons spiked the ball to stop the clock. 3rd down and thirteen - time out. The Cougars took formation for the 3rd down field goal attempt but it was slapped away – a loose ball but Rancho regained possession. 4th down and the Cougars went for the 42-yard field goal and this time it was good, 38-35.
Four seconds left in regular play - Eureka had returned the punt to the 45-yard line and upon final possession desperately tried to keep the play alive with a scramble play that resulted in a fumble and the game was over.
Rancho Cotate took to the field against Cardinal Newman three weeks ago in a blistering League Championship game yet yielded the win. One can be sure the Cougars will execute Saturday’s semifinal game with an appetite for reciprocity.
“I watched [the video from the League game] so much my eyes were bleeding,” Coach Hotaling quips. “Our kids will show up and compete their tails off and that’s all we can ask for. That’s an A-level quality program and to be able to play them in a semifinal game is an honor.”
Football fans can expect this Saturday’s game to be one of the greats in high school playoff history.
Game time is Nov. 24, 7 p.m. at Santa Rosa Junior College, Bailey Field.
To listen to audio snippets of the game's most exciting moments visit:
Audio recording and editing by JC Newman.