ROHNERT PARK, Calif. - Bakersfield Christian-Bakersfield won its first CIF Division 3-A championship with a 42-21 over host Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park on Saturday night.
The scoreboard went out a couple of times, eventually giving up for the night in the second quarter. The final blow for the Cougars, however, was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Bakersfield Christian QB Dominic Gamboni to Ronnie Simril with 8:11 to go to end any hopes of a Rancho Cotate comeback.
Rancho Cotate scored the first 14 points early, and it appeared that it might be the Cougars who would be hoisting a trophy at the end of the night. The first spark of momentum for the Cougars was an interception by Gianni Gigliello, who returned it 10 yards. Quarterback Jared Stocker then had a fantastic second quarter, first connecting with Dimitri Johnson to get the Cougars on the move, then throwing a perfect pass to Jack Reese near the back of the end zone for a 24-yard score to put them up 7-0 early.
Reese would then intercept a pass from Gamboni, but fumbled on the return and Bakersfield Christian recovered. Reese would make up for it with great coverage on fourth-and-three, deflecting a pass in the end zone to keep the Eagles off the board.
Rancho marched down the field again, highlighted by a pass from Stocker to Gigliello for 35 yards, and a few plays later, Stocker gave a great second effort to punch in Rancho’s second touchdown of the night and put them up 14-0 with 3:16 to go in the half.
”First half, bright lights got in our heads, and had a bit of stage fright," Gamboni said.
“We came out flat. Made a lot of mistakes, committed a lot of penalties, and unforced errors,” said Bakersfield Christian head coach Darren Carr.
The Eagles got back on the move, and finally were able to have some success. Gamboni found Chris Gutierrez for a 33-yard pickup with 90 seconds to go in the half, and the next play, Gamboni connected with Ben Yurosek for a nine-yard touchdown pass to give Bakersfield Christian some momentum going into the second half.
The third quarter would be all Bakersfield Christian. On its first possession, Gamboni and Gutierrez hooked up for their second touchdown of the night to tie the game. A three and out ensued for the Rancho Cotate offense, and the Eagles marched down the field, led by a 13-yard completion to Yurosek, setting up Jess Wattenbarger’s 49-yard touchdown run to put them on top for the first time with 7:42 to go in the third.
Stocker’s first pass on the ensuing drive was intercepted by Yurosek, and kept the momentum on the Bakersfield Christian side. The Eagles would convert on that mistake, as David Stevenson rumbled for a 13-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 28-14.
“Their defensive line was incredible. They had a consistent pass rush all game,” said Rancho Cotate head coach Gehrig Hotaling.
“We were able to find creases in our running game, which allowed us to expand our offense,” Carr said.
Just one minute and eleven seconds later, Bakersfield Christian got some luck, as a deflected pass by the Rancho Cotate defense turned into a 61-yard touchdown pass for Yurosek and Bakersfield Christian had scored 35 unanswered points en route to a 35-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
"We went back to our roots and played Eagles football,” Gamboni said after the game.
“Dom (Gamboni) took some shots and threw some really great balls, and our receivers made some big plays,” said Carr.
“I think we ran out of gas. We aren’t used to playing 15 games, and we came out flat. Bakersfield Christian is a heck of a football team,” said Hotaling after the game.
Rancho Cotate finally got some push up front, and opened up Johnson in the end zone for a 12 yard touchdown pass from Stocker with 9:15 remaining to cut the deficit to 35-21.
Gamboni finished the night 21-of-35 throwing for 376 yards with four touchdowns and one interception for Bakersfield Christian.
Simril had 174 yards receiving on seven catches for a touchdown. Yurosek had 102 yards receiving for three touchdowns, and also led the defense with five tackles, while Gutierrez had two interceptions.
Stocker had 145 yards passing with two touchdowns, with Reese having 53 receiving yards for Rancho Cotate. Mihalis Santorineos led the defense with 12 tackles, with Reese adding eight tackles and Tau Paletti coming in at seven tackles.
Bakersfield Christian wins their first CIF State Championship in school history. The Eagles finished with a 12-3 overall record.
“Winning tonight means the world to our school. To be able to put Central Valley football on the map, a lot of people overlook this area a lot. To bring this back to Bakersfield is amazing and I’m so thankful,” said Gamboni.
“It means a lot. Back in the valley, our teams are known for tough football. They play hard nosed football, and our group was resilient all year,” Carr added.
Rancho Cotate finishes their season 11-4, and Northern California champions for the first time in school history.
“Rancho is a tough team, and they’re big. We knew it was going to be tough running the football. Their quarterback and skill players were very good,” Carr commented.
“Our group was resilient. We had four big wins in a row, starting with Windsor, then Benicia, then Las Lomas in which nobody really gave us a chance, and then ending in that mud game against Shasta. It’s been a fun ride, and it’s tough to lose your last game. I’m really proud of my guys. They fought till the end,” Hotaling concluded.