Rancho Cotate Head Coach Gehrig Hotaling woke up Friday morning one year older. Of course, he wasn’t thinking about being 36 years old, he was thinking about Friday’s North Coast Section Division 3 Championship game against Las Lomas High School. Though he might not get a cake, Hotaling got something much better: an NCS Title.
The Rancho Cotate Cougars stymied Oregon State bound Isaiah Newell en route to a 7-0 victory over the Knights of Los Lomas High School.
Like most games this season, this game was a dog fight. The Cougars’ offense struggled for most of the night and the defense was otherworldly. In the end, the Cougars did what they do best, find a way to win. This team has been through so much it seemed like it was meant to be for them Friday night.
Behind a Rasheed Rankin 1-yard touchdown run and a Jack Reese fourth down interception, the Cougars clinched their first NCS Title since 2002 and made Hotaling’s birthday one he will never forget.
After the Reese interception, it was pandemonium for the Cougars. The players were running onto the field and along the sidelines while the fans cheered,
and as for Hotaling, he was seen kneeling down with his hands in his head overcome with emotion. That’s how much this game meant for the Cougars.
“It’s the greatest moment in my life besides the birth of my baby this year,” Hotaling said. “It’s just surreal and unbelievable, the fight these kids have. They’re a fourth quarter team. They’re down, but they’re never out.”
Hotaling’s postgame comments ring so true for those who have followed the team all season. The Cougars have found ways to win in the fourth quarter all season long. Whether it’s wearing teams down by being bigger or making key plays on offense or defense from being mentally tougher, the Cougars are a team no one should bet against come fourth quarter.
This game was an old-fashioned physical football game from beginning to end. The Cougars knew the Knights have one of the best running backs in California coming into the game, which meant it was going to be a dog fight. Dog fights are what the Cougars thrive on.
Sometimes scores don’t do justice to how the game was played. In this case, the score was 100 percent accurate. The Cougars and Knights were two evenly matched teams and played that way for three quarters. It just took two plays on offense and one on defense to win the game.
The two biggest plays of the game for the Cougars’ offense came on the final drive of the game. Jared Stocker, who was bottled up for most of the game, pulled off his signature Houdini act, rolling out to his left to evade pressure and found a receiver downfield for the first down conversion. These are the types of plays Stocker made all season and why his teammates love him. His stats might not be sexy every game, but he’s got intangibles most quarterbacks don’t have.
This play by Stocker was followed by the hardest and best run of Rankin’s career. Rankin is a beast, as everyone knows. He’s 225 pounds and has made a living dragging defenders on his back, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when he does it. In this case, though, the run was different.
“The play of the game when he was dragging 11 guys to the one-yard line and you saw our guys fighting, pushing and helping-that one play epitomizes our team,” Hotaling said.
This play put into perspective the Cougars’ team. It’s a team that will never die, never quit and that never say die attitude is what crowned them NCS Champions.
Rankin is always a humble player. Instead of praising himself and saying how great he did, he gave credit to his offensive line.
“The O-line came out of nowhere and started pushing me,” Rankin said.
Though the Cougars’ offense put them ahead, the defense still had to close the deal. Instead of making it easy on themselves, the Cougars had to give everyone on their sideline a heart attack.
The Cougars allowed the Knights to march 79 yards from their own 9-yard line to the Cougars’ 12, which is where the key play for the Cougars happened.
Let’s set the scene. The Knights have had the ball for over 9 minutes and have a 4th-and-3 at the Rancho 12-yard line. This is the season for both teams; if the Cougars stop the Knights they win the game and move on, if the Knights score a touchdown they might go for two and leave the Cougars heartbroken. Then the weekly film study for the Cougars showed up.
“They ran a play that we had prepared for all week with their best player (Isaiah Newell) running a wheel route from the running back position,” Hotaling said. “We knew they were going to be running that play at some point. They waited until the last second and we were there.”
In an evenly matched game, the coaching staff makes a difference and any fans and community members who know the Cougars’ coaching staff understand the work they put in. This work paid off, as Reese was in the right place at the right time.
“We notice when they line up in that set, there’s a 50 percent chance they’re going to run that,” Reese said. “They hadn’t run it all game. We waited for it all game. We finally read it and got a chance to pick it off.”
Reese explains how he saw Newell in the area, knew he was target and jumped the route for the interception, which sent Cougar Nation into a state of hysteria and gave Hotaling the best birthday gift he’s ever received.
The Cougar seniors will have at least one more game next Saturday when they travel to Manteca, Ca., to take on the 11-3 Sierra High School Timberwolves. The Timberwolves finished fourth in the very competitive Valley Oak League behind Manteca High School, Central Catholic High School and Oakdale High School. The Timberwolves enter Saturday’s game ranked 99 in the state of Ca. while the Cougars are ranked 119. The Timberwolves are led by 5’8” 175 running back Kimoni Stanley who is averaging 158.5 yards per game on the season.
This game is part of the CIF State Football Playoffs. The Cougars and Timberwolves are two of the four teams in the 3-A Division along with Sunny Hills and Bakersfield Christian. For those community members who are going to the game it starts at 6 p.m. and will be at Sierra High School in Manteca.