You know the saying, it’s all mental. That saying was true Fri. night for the Rancho Cotate Cougars. The Cougars’ offense again was struggling with turnovers, being late substituting and simply not executing. This caused visible frustration, cursing and the team blaming each other on the sidelines. Entering halftime down 14-7, it was gut check time for the Cougars.
“I think we came out tight in the first half, we had a nice touchdown drive on the first possession and then the offense started to struggle, and we started to get tight,” Head Coach Gehrig Hotaling said. “We started to say oh no not again, because we’ve had struggles scoring lately these last couple games.”
Hotaling’s simple halftime message of “This is it” worked.
The Cougars knew their season was on the line going into the second half and responded to coach’s message. His message was if we don’t turn this around, we certainly won’t have a home playoff game and maybe not even make the playoffs. That’s the message which resonated most with the players.
Often times, when a team’s backs are against the wall, they respond with the most fire, passion and focus. This was the case with the Cougars. They ran away from the Windsor Jaguars in the second half, scoring 26 second half points in route to a 33-20 victory over the Jaguars.
When a team is struggling, it is on the leaders of the team to set the tone and Quarterback Jared Stocker did that for the Cougars. Stocker struggled in the first half with a fumble and two interceptions with one being returned for a touchdown. Stocker took Hotaling’s halftime message to heart and responded in a big way throwing four touchdown passes in the second half. Three were thrown to Brandon Proschold and one was thrown to Jack Reese. More on these touchdowns later.
Stocker knew he had to set the tone for the team in the second half because he’s the quarterback and everyone on the team follows the quarterback’s lead.
“The first half we were tight, mostly because we were scared to make mistakes,” Stocker said. “The second half, we honestly said we have each other’s backs and we are going to do this as a team, and we balled out.”
Stocker said the reason the Cougars came out tight is the offense wasn’t very comfortable as a team, but at halftime they came together and said, “Let’s do this, no more bickering and blaming one another, we either win as a team or lose as a team.” The Cougars won going away as a team.
Stocker, in particular, said he was feeling down and feeling the pressure of a struggling offense, but pulled himself together and became the leader the Cougars needed him to be.
“At the end of the first half I felt a little defeated after the two picks, I was hurt, my body was hurt and I just told myself I have to be a leader right now, I have to step up for the team, that was my mentality,” Stocker said.
Stocker had high praise for his wide receivers, offensive line and defense after the game. As he said, this was a team win for the Cougars. It wasn’t a pretty performance, but they got the win One of those receivers Stocker referred to was Brandon Proschold. Proschold was playing his first game on offense this season for the Cougars as he was coming back from a left ankle injury. Proschold had been playing defense the last couple of games, but after this performance he might be permanently on offense, at least if Stocker has his way.
Proschold echoed what Hotaling and Stocker said. He went into some detail on what exactly the problem was with the offense.
“We weren’t playing as team, it was kind of the blame game,” Proschold said. “Even it was your mistake, everyone was blaming everyone else and we weren’t just playing as a team and owning our mistakes and playing how we know how to play.”
Proschold said the halftime message was play Rancho football. For any of the returners and community members who have watched this team over the last two years, they know what that means. The Cougars responded to that message and played like the Cougars in the second half.
Proschold also said that Stocker took the blame for the bad throws at halftime. Stocker taking the blame for his mistakes meant that everyone else had to hold themselves accountable as well. Accountability is huge for team cohesion, so the captain and leader of the offense acknowledging he isn’t playing well is exactly what’s needed.
As for how this game will help the team moving forward, Proschold was pretty excited.
“After taking back to back losses and being down at halftime, it helps to come out and play how we know how to play and to see our offense clicking for the first time all season,” Proschold said.
It remains to be seen what the impact of this game will have on the Cougars’ season. Every game is different and that’s why sports is so difficult to predict. The Cougars’ offense got the confidence they needed, and hopefully they carry that into their next game, which happens to be Homecoming.
The Homecoming game starts at 7 p.m. against Maria Carillo High School. This game will be filled with celebrations and the crowning of Homecoming King and Queen during the halftime festivities, so community members should come out to this one.