April 8, 2020
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On senior day, Cougars roll

  • Orion Piombo, a senior at Rancho Cotate High School and Gino Mencarini, sophomore, take down a member of the Analy High School's team during their game Fri, Oct. 25. Rancho hosted Analy at Cougar Stadium for their senior night game and took home the win by defeating Analy 49-13. Photo by Jane Peleti

By: Paul Matli
November 1, 2019

On a night when more than 50 people between football, band and cheer were honored, the Rancho Cotate Cougars’ football team made sure those in attendance left happy. Senior night for high school football is always bittersweet for those involved. It’s sweet because those seniors who have been so successful get to be honored for their service to the school and football program. It’s bitter because the players know this could be the last time they play on the field.

This was the case for the Rancho Cotate senior class. Thirty-two members of the football team went through this Friday night. What went from being an incredible pregame ceremony, turned into a time of reflection for those who might not be on the field ever again.

“Seniors, this very well could be the last game here,” Head Coach Gehrig Hotaling said. “So, take your time, soak it up, say hi to your friends and family. Really enjoy the experience after the game, there’s a possibility this might be it. Soak it up man. I appreciate all your years of hard work.”

After Coach Hotaling’s post game message, all the seniors took the time for a picture as a group and then broke off individually to be with their friends and family. Those who have experienced senior night know just how special of a time it is. Most of us just see the athletes, whether it’s high school or college, we don’t see the human side of them. 

Seeing the thirty-two members of the team with their family and friends after the game is something to behold. Most of these athletes know their football career is winding down, as most of them won’t play beyond high school. Knowing their athletic career is almost over makes every game more meaningful and seeing family that much more special. Sports doesn’t last forever, but family and community does. Everyone on the football field Fri. night, whether they move away or stay in the area, will be welcomed back with open arms because of the bond they have with the program and community members.

This is the very reason why Coach Hotaling wanted the seniors to enjoy themselves, because he understands friends and family are more important than a game that puts a tear on your body the longer you play.

One of those players was defensive lineman Orion Piombo. Piombo, like his teammates, was potentially playing his final game in front of the Cougar faithful. For those who have watched Piombo, it was one of his finest games. Piombo and fellow defensive end Gino Mencarini combined for 17 tackles and five sacks on the night.

“I think we played really great, but we haven’t played to our potential yet,” Piombo said. “There’s points on that board and mistakes that we made and there’s little assignments that we worked on throughout the week. You can only expect so much, but I wanted a little bit more.” Piombo was pleased with his individual performance, though he feels he can play better. In his mind he gave up some yards and wasn’t perfect, so he’s still striving for perfection.

This is the attitude all the Cougars have on both sides of the ball. They know it won’t be easy in the playoffs, so they need to execute as a team on offense and defense to win.

One of those keys is the extra points. Extra points have been an adventure all season for the Cougars and Fri. night they did something not accomplished all season. They were a perfect 7 for 7 on extra points and the only miss from the kicking team was a 41-yard field goal to end the half. This was very pleasing to Coach Hotaling.

“The kicking game was much better, we made a couple of tweaks to it and I was impressed with that,” Hotaling said. “I think once we get our kicking game down, we will be tough to beat in the playoffs.”

Another player stood out on the Cougar’s defensive line besides Piombo. Gino Mencarini is just a sophomore, so it will be another two years before he has his senior moment. In the meantime, he continues to be a steady force for the Cougars as defensive end. This game was his coming out party. He finished the game with 9 tackles and 2 sacks. Not only was he dominant as a defensive end, but he also had the opportunity to move around the football field. Mencarini ended the night playing three positions, defensive end, outside linebacker and inside linebacker.

“I’m usually just a defensive end, but they put me as a linebacker to try me out,” Mencarini said.

Part of the reason for him moving around the formation was the blowout nature of the game. Coach Hotaling was able to get every player into the game for at least one snap. This is something that hardly ever happens, so it was awesome for this to happen on Senior Night.   

“I think the backups are some of the biggest supporters on our team,” Mencarini said. “They always cheer us on, give us great credit and it’s time for them to get some reps.”

The backups having the opportunity to play shows the chemistry this team has. Seeing the starters going crazy over a backup making a tackle is a sign the Cougars have gone from being teammates to brothers. 

These brothers have one more game left in the regular season. The team plays Fri. in Ukiah at 7 p.m. 

Piombo summed up the night perfectly with his final post game quote and gave some insight into the mindset for the game against the Wildcats. 

“This win is what was important because the fact is that every senior can walk away with a win because there’s a good chance this might be our last game ever on this field,” Piombo said. “So, we needed to end it on a good note.”

As for what the team’s mindset is for this coming Friday? 

“Must win, it’s a must win game,” Piombo said. “If we win this game by a substantial amount it should put us in a good spot.”