Rancho Cotate returned from a long break to a smashing win, 42-7, against American Canyon in a home game Sat., Nov. 24 that advanced them to the semi-finals of the NCS Division 2 Championship.
Despite what the final tally might imply, the game felt close all the way up until the start of the second half. The American Canyon Wolves kept the Rancho Cotate Cougars to a one touchdown lead and it wasn’t until the Cougars reshuffled their offensive strategy that they pulled ahead. “We played better this time than we did our last by, that’s for sure,” Gehrig Hotaling, Cougar head coach, said. “Defense was great, special teams were not-too-good, and offense got their act together. That’s the story of the game.”
The game began in a vicious stalemate. For the first quarter, the Wolves and the Cougars exchanged possession of the ball with metronome like regularity, but that couldn’t last for long. The Cougars’ break came, paradoxically, when Wolves cornerback Devin Davis intercepted the ball at the Wolves’ own 24-yard line. Four quick plays ended in four quick downs, and a short punt and long return, saw the Cougars’ back in possession just past midfield. Then Cougar quarterback Jared Stocker chucked a long pass to Cougar wide receiver Jack Reese who took off for the end zone with a 39-yard return and scored the first touchdown of the game.
That gave the Cougars the lead, but Rancho Cotate wasn’t content to leave it at that. They followed up on their next possession with another pair of passes, this time to Cougar wide receiver Ryan Hupp. Hupp’s first catch was a 22-yard long bomb that brought the team deep into the Wolves’ territory. On the very next play, Stocker threw a midfield pass, which Hupp took up the side through a gap in the Wolves’ line.
“I thought I was going to get caught from behind on that second one, but I managed to push through and get the touchdown,” Hupp said.
At the start of the second quarter the score looked rather bleak for the Wolves, but they came back from the brink with a long kick off yard return-63 yards, to be exact-run by their wide receiver, Brandon Seay. Seay slipped through the Cougar defenders and deep into their territory, downing the ball in excellent scoring position. A long charge by the Wolves’ running back, Darius Thomas, followed Seay’s push and before the Cougars could reorganize the Wolves were within 10 yards of the goal.
But the Cougars did re-organize, and after a brief scuffle the Wolves stared down the barrel of fourth down with a half dozen yards from the end zone. They made it, though, when Darius Thomas leapt through the center of the Cougar defensive line and landed his team’s first and only touchdown for the game.
The Cougars shifted their strategy in the halftime break, one that seemed predicated more on brute force than finesse.
On their next drive, three offensive linemen formed a barrier in front of their running back, Rasheed Rankin. With a direct snap to Rankin, the offensive blitzkrieg rolled forward, trampling the Wolves’ defensive line. Rankin drove right up the middle and scored with a 52-yard charge. That was the beginning of the end for the Wolves. Variants of that play served the Cougars well throughout the rest of the third and fourth quarter, and though the Wolves put up an admirable defense, they were slow to adapt.
“They’re the number one seed team for a reason,” John Mantante, American Canyon head coach, said. “They’re a big, strong team. If you pound the rock long enough sooner or later the rock busts.”
Rancho Cotate’s victory moves the team into the semifinals. Their next game will be against Marin Catholic at Rancho Cotate High School Fri., Nov. 30.