With a couple of elite running backs on the field, it was only fitting that the lone touchdown in Rancho Cotate's 7-0 win over Las Lomas in the North Coast Section Division 3 title game came on a short, slug-it-out type of drive, aided by one of the Cougars' only pass completions of the night.
With the game scoreless in the fourth quarter and facing third-and-eight from the Knights' 35-yard line, Rancho quarterback Jared Stocker connected with Brandon Proschold for 16 yards. On the next play, Rasheed Rankin came up with his best run of the night, a 17-yard effort which moved the ball to the Las Lomas two-yard line. After an offsides penalty, Rankin muscled his way in from the one-yard line to break the tie.
The Rancho Cotate (10-3) defense was then tested on the final Las Lomas drive of the night, after the Knights took over at their own nine-yard line with 8:17 left in the game. Having lost starting quarterback Everett Johnson to injury, the Knights turned to starting safety and backup quarterback Sammy Von Felden, who started all of the previous season under center for College Park. Von Felden directed a 20-play drive which made its way to the Cougars' 12-yard line.
At that point, the Knights came out in a two-receiver set to the right, with Isaiah Newell off-set to the same side in the backfield. The previous week, in an early fourth-and-long situation, Johnson had connected with Newell on a quick wheel route up the right sideline out of the same look for a big gain. The Knights went back to this go-to play, but the Rancho Cotate defense was ready for it.
As outside receiver Tyler Darr set a fantastic pick on the outside linebacker, defensive end Raymond Nixon dropped away from the right tackle, getting his fingertips on the throw. At the same time, cornerback Jack Reese saw Darr go inside and shifted his eyes to any outside threat, which happened to be Newell. Reese jumped in front of the ball as it was headed for Newell, allowing Stocker to take a couple of kneel-downs to end the game and secure the title game victory.
"I watched a lot of film on their offense so when they lined up in that set, I realized they only run a handful of plays and it just happened to be the one we had been waiting for all night," Reese said. "As soon as I saw the running back come out of the backfield I knew what play they were running, which set me up for the interception.”
While Rankin's late score and the interception were the big title-clinching plays, the overall play of the Rancho Cotate defense was the theme, as Las Lomas (11-2) saw its season end with a shutout loss for the second straight year, having been blanked by Eureka in last year's semifinals. Rankin also controlled the flow of the game from his running back spot, carrying the ball 22 times for 105 yards. It was just the type of win imagined by head coach Gehrig Hotaling, whose team dropped a similar slug-fest in last year's semifinals against Marin Catholic.
"We wouldn't win a beauty pageant for the way we win, but it's effective. We knew eventually we would pop a big one in the run game and sure enough, Rasheed had the run of his life," said Hotaling, who celebrated his 36th birthday at the same time. "This team is just an incredible group of winners. The fight they show in the fourth quarter of games is unbelievable."
The win in the title game was the seventh straight overall for Rancho Cotate, which was the runner-up in the NBL-Oak behind NCS Division 4 champion Cardinal Newman. Now, the Cougars wait to find out who they will face in the CIF bowl game series, in the NorCal regional final.