After two subpar games by his standards, Rancho Cotate starting quarterback Jared Stocker was surgical Fri. night against the El Cerrito Gauchos. Stocker finished 11/14 for 134 yards and three touchdowns as he led the Cougars to a 35-0 victory over El Cerrito High School.
Stocker and the passing game found their stride early on. Stocker led the Cougars down the field on the first possession of the game and found slot receiver Gianni Gigliello for his first of two touchdowns on the night. Then the Cougars’ special teams got into the action, forcing a turnover on the ensuing kickoff, setting up the Cougars in prime Rasheed Rankin territory. Rankin cashed in the special teams’ turnover and made it 14-0 Cougars.
This was more than enough for the Cougars’ defense. The Cougars stifled the Gauchos offense all night long in route to their first shutout this season. Included in this shutout was a consistent pass rush by the Cougars defensive line, forcing two fumbles and having a red zone interception by Darius Hurst.
Fri. night was the first time in three weeks everything gelled for the Cougars. The passing game was on point, running game was again potent and the defense and special teams continued to dominate. Head Coach Gehrig Hotaling was most pleased with the passing game hitting its stride.
“It’s a combination of things,” Hotaling said. “We’ve seen incredible defenses or secondaries the first three weeks. They are faster than us and cover us well, but we did get on track by doing the little things a little bit better.”
Another reason why the Cougars’ passing game clicked, according to Hotaling, was seeing the same defense in back to back weeks.
“At halftime we made things a little bit more simple and talked about how this is the same exact defense we saw last week,” Hotaling said. “It was a 4-2 box one high man the whole time and we just executed a little better.”
Making adjustments in game and between games are the most important things coaches can do, especially considering the secondaries the Cougars have faced are more athletic, according to Hotaling.
Hotaling talked about the halftime adjustments as the key for the Cougars’ game. Though the Cougars scored 14 points in the first quarter, the offense wasn’t as smooth as Hotaling would have liked. One key aspect was getting the inside receivers like Gigliello and Jordan Broderick touches. A big reason for this was the single high safety defense the Gauchos were playing.
“They were playing with one safety the entire time and when they do that, we have to take advantage of the slot receivers,” Hotaling said. “The first half was rough; we were just missing on a couple of things and then we started hitting it the second half.”
All three of Stocker’s touchdown passes were to slot receivers. Gigliello had two, while Broderick had one. Having a balanced offensive attack is what the Cougars pride themselves on. Last week it was the outside receivers like Hurst, who had a big game and this week it was the inside guys.
Gigliello talked about all of this after the game.
“It feels amazing all the hard work put into it, finally coming together as a team,” Gigliello said of his two-touchdown performance.
Gigliello also spoke about how the passing game sets up so many other things on offense.
“It was crucial because it actually opens it up for multiple things for both the run and pass,” Gigliello said.
This game was a milestone for Gigliello. This was his first ever game with two touchdowns and he had just three total last season, so he’s well on his way toward setting a career high in touchdowns.
The star for the Cougars was Stocker. The Cougars’ quarterback by his own admission was not good the first two weeks of the season. This game was a different story. Stocker was a surgeon as he missed just three passes all night and had three darts for touchdowns. Stocker was very humble in his post-game interview, giving credit to everyone else. He credited the offensive line, the running game and even his receivers making great catches. Stocker embodies the leader a team wants, someone who never takes credit and is the first person to praise others. This is how a team builds chemistry.
“The dominating running game really led to the passing game this week,” Stocker said. “I could not do anything without the offensive line and Rasheed and Jayden Herrera and next week when Sumari comes back it’s gonna be ridiculous. I can’t wait.”
Not only was Stocker precise with his passes, he also used his legs exceptionally well. The stats might not show it because he had some long runs called back because of holding calls, but Stocker went back to his comfort zone, which is using his legs to make plays. Stocker had a big third down run on the Cougars’ third touchdown drive. He says it’s been difficult to balance his urge to run and being a quarterback.
“When I was a freshman and first really started playing quarterback, I had a bad habit of using my legs too much,” Stocker said. “I felt like I got away from using my legs, so this week in practice I focused on getting it back where I can run a little bit more and show that I can run and pass.”
Though the Cougars were enjoying this win, Coach Hotaling was not too celebratory. In his postgame message to the team he was very stern about what happens next. The Cougars have a bye week and then play in Chico against Pleasant Valley, the defending State Champions.
Last year the Cougars did not have a good experience during the bye week. According to Hotaling the team had a poor week of practice and got beat up by Cardinal Newman. In his post-game huddle with the players Hotaling is making sure this does not happen again.
“Last year we had a poor week of practice during the bye week and got beat up by Newman,” Hotaling said. “I think there’s kids on the team from last year who understand we need to have a solid week of practice, it’s a critical time for us.”
Stocker agreed the next week is going to be huge and was also excited that the Cougars were going to be on television. The game is airing on NFHS Network and starts at 7:30 p.m.
“I can’t wait, I don’t think I’ve ever been on television before,” Stocker said. “I can’t wait to be on T.V and showcase.”