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Cougars win behind roaring defensive performance

  • With about 20 seconds left on the clock, the score tied 10-10 and Pleasant Valley with the ball, Tai Peleti, a senior at Rancho Cotate High School, gets an interception and takes the ball 65 yards down the field to get the winning touchdown while doing that run with only one shoe on as he lost the other one during a tackle attempt. Rancho defeated Pleasant Valley 17-10. Photo by Jane Peleti

By: Paul Matli
September 27, 2019

The slugfest between the Rancho Cotate Cougars and Pleasant Valley Vikings looked destined for overtime, then Tai Peleti happened. Peleti's interception and subsequent 65-yard rush to the goal line with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter propelled the Cougars to victory, sent their fans and bench on fire, while leaving Pleasant Valley and Cougars’ Coach Gehrig Hotaling stunned.

“It was unbelievable. I thought the game was going to overtime,” Hotaling said. “If you’re a football purist, this was a great football game.”

This game serves as a reminder for some who might have forgotten how special the game of football is. It’s not often a stadium experiences the shock play like they did Fri. night in Chico. A safety playing man coverage, reading the quarterback’s eyes and then jumping the route.

Peleti's play wasn’t the only time the Cougars defense stepped up. They also had a goal line stand right before the first half concluded that helped alter the momentum of the game.

“We knew the offense was struggling a little bit and we came through the whole game,” Peleti said. “We stopped them on the goal line multiple times and the energy was flowing through the defense and trying to get it passed on to the offense.”

It’s true for anyone who watched this game, how inspired the Cougars were defensively. This is a unit that’s been amazing every game this season and it continued Fri. night. Most fans love a good offensive show, but no team has won a championship without an elite defense. The Cougars defense playing at this high of level bodes well for their chances against teams like Cardinal Newman later in league play.

For the Peleti family you could say his pick six was meant to be. Tai explains how he called his shot like Babe Ruth on the sideline in pregame.

“I couldn’t believe it at first, I couldn’t believe it happened,” Peleti said. “I was talking to my coach before the game joking around saying I’m going to get a pick six, but I didn’t think it was actually going to happen.”

Coach Hotaling was very blunt in the post-game message to his team. He explained how awesome the win was, how much of a grind it was and that the defense carried the team, but a win is a win and they take it anyway they get it.

“Offense was horrendous tonight, but you were good in spots,” Hotaling said. “Defense, you put us on your backs tonight.”

The Cougars won’t have much time to bask in the glory and hype of this win as they will play Campolindo High School next week. The Cougars are another formidable preseason out of conference opponent as they have won two CIF State Championships in the last five years (2014, 2016) and enter this game with a 4-1 record.

The Cougars defeated Campolindo 35-21 last season at Rancho so expect Campo to try to exact some revenge on the Cougars. Peleti and the defense haven’t studied the offense too much, but he feels confident because he knows most of the players from last season.

For those interested in watching this game, it will also be on NFHS Network at 7 p.m. live from Moraga.