Who said there were no moral victories in sports? This was Head Coach Gehrig Hotaling’s message to his team after the game. Though they lost 24-14, the Rancho Cotate Cougars showed the Cardinals of Cardinal Newman and anyone else watching they are for real.
“I need you guys to understand how hard you played tonight,” Hotaling said. “That score, although it was close, doesn’t reflect the type of team that’s here, you understand me.”
The Cougars played their hearts out Fri. night in front of a raucous crowd. They entered halftime just four points down on the 42nd ranked team in the state of California and the 432nd ranked team nationally. That performance in itself is incredible for the Cougars.
Putting things into perspective, the Cougars had a missed extra point, missed field goal, two interceptions in their hands dropped, a fumble in scoring territory and a tip pass interception. That’s how close they were to pulling off the upset. With how the Cougars were greeted after the game, you would think they had won. The community members saw a team who fought valiantly and forced the Cardinals to let them walk into the end zone twice to end the game.
“We were two turnovers and a couple missed tackles away from being right in the game, so if you have your head down, that’s the wrong move,” Hotaling said. “I’m so proud of how you guys played tonight, so proud, you showed so much heart, so much desire. They say there’s no moral victories in sports, that’s a moral victory.”
These four plays referred to by Hotaling will likely cost the Cougars a league championship, but they are focused on the bigger prize; the NCS Playoffs. For those who need a refresher, the Cougars have reached the semi-finals the last four years only to lose. The team is looking for a breakthrough and Fri. night’s game will serve as a reminder of how good this team is and how much better they can get between now and the playoffs.
The Cougars as a team played well but two players, one on each side of the ball, showed up in a big way. Wide Receiver Jack Reese was the Cougars best receiver again, catching another touchdown pass from Quarterback Jared Stocker in the first quarter and later forced a pass interference which led to Rasheed Rankin’s touchdown.
On the defensive side, Defensive Lineman Garrett Ridley has been a consistent force for the Cougars all season and was exceptional Fri. night. Ridley had two sacks, his first was a strip sack and his second was a one-handed sack of Newman quarterback Jackson Pavitt. In every game this season Ridley has flashed speed, power and creativity in the pass rush and his two-sack performance moved the junior to 4.5 on the year.
Reese meanwhile is being phased back into the offense after he had an offseason shoulder injury.
“I’m proud of the way my guys played tonight, we have a ton of injuries, some starters out so I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”
Two of the players Reese is referring to are Darius Hurst and Gianni Gigliello. Hurst is playing through a nagging ankle injury which forced him to leave Friday’s game and Gigliello has a shoulder injury but is expected to return this season.
Though Coach Hotaling was focused on the big goal at the end of the season, Reese took a game by game approach.
“This game would have been nice to have, but we are working one game at a time,” Reese said. “We aren’t really worried about that game right (NCS Championship) now.”
For Ridley, Friday’s game was more than just another game. He was playing for something much bigger.
“I thought the defense played all right, but I was really playing for my brother Tua,” Ridley said. “He had to retire due to a concussion, so I was really out there playing for him and we did everything we could to win, but we fell short.”
Finding motivation by any means necessary is something the great athletes do. Michael Jordan was so much better than everyone else he would use the slightest things to get him going, just like Tom Brady does now for modern athletes. Playing for something like family will get any player going.
Ridley playing for his brother shows the special bond he has with his family and how much football means to them. Having a bond with family is much bigger than a bond with football, because as we all know, the sport’s violent nature can end dreams quickly.
Coach Hotaling, Reese and Ridley all noticed the crowd and how many people showed up and how much support the team had. It meant a lot to the players to have that support and though they didn’t get the win, the team did everything they could.
The next game for the Cougars is next Fri. night at 7 p.m. against the Tigers of Windsor in Windsor. The team hopes to get back in the win column and make strides toward the NCS Championships.