For Rancho, win against Newman feels like ‘we just won a playoff game’


ROHNERT PARK — Rancho Cotate quarterback Poueu Peleti-Gore was on the shoulders of his teammates Friday night, carried around the field like he was a trophy. And he was. He was on display, representing not just what he did in the game but what he did to those ghosts, those Cardinal Newman ghosts of the last eight years.

Rancho Cotate's Brian Dworkin runs the ball as Cardinal Newman's defense struggles to take him down during the first half of the game held at Rancho Cotate High School. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

“I am so overwhelmed,” Peleti-Gore said. “Words can’t describe how I feel.”

For the first time in eight years the Cougars beat Newman, beat the Cardinals in overtime, with Peleti-Gore’s ribs aching like the worst toothache imaginable. It was Peleti-Gore going over from the 1-yard line in overtime. It was Rancho winning, 27-21, and Rancho erupting, the students, the players, the parents of the players, the relatives of the players swarming the field like they just won something more than a football game.

“It feels like we just won a playoff game,” said Ed Conroy, Rancho’s coach. “It feels like we won the danged section title. What you are seeing here, with the fans, it’s like everyone lifting off what they have been carrying around for eight years. We had targeted this game on our schedule when we started practice.”

Considering how many people love Newman — OK, maybe not — it was more than Newman that was overcome in this game. This game had layers upon layers to be peeled off, and it wasn’t just beating Newman. It was the winner taking charge of the NBL.

It was Peleti-Gore being forced to leave the game with a rib injury with 8:07 left in the second quarter, his absence noticeably affecting the offense. “I didn’t think I would return,” he said. “My ribs were hurting pretty bad. I couldn’t run.”

It was Rancho Cotate’s Matt Hunn intercepting a pass with 2:23 left in the second, sprinting 10 yards to a touchdown that would have given Rancho a 21-0 lead at that point. But the touchdown was nullified when the officials charged a Rancho player with a roughing the passer penalty. Conroy was livid.

“They said my player was more than two steps away from the quarterback before he hit him,” Conroy said. “I saw it as more of a bang-bang play.”

The game’s momentum changed dramatically after that, Newman came back on the very next series, drove 80 yards on seven plays and a penalty with quarterback Matt Sullivan sprinting in from the 11. Until that drive by Newman, the Cardinals had gained 32 yards total offense. Now it was a 14-7 game instead of a 21-0 one, and Newman kept up the tempo in the second half, with Sullivan again the catalyst. Running once for 11, passing another time for 22, running back Stephen Tomasin scored from the 15 with 5:22 left in the third.

With Ricky Garcia at quarterback instead of Peleti-Gore, the Cougars struggled on offense while Newman put together this monster 17-play, 83-yard drive that consumed 6:50, with Phil Wright going over from the one to put Newman ahead, 21-14, with 7:19 left in the game.

By that time in the game Peleti-Gore had been in the game for a few plays on defense, much to the surprise of Conroy.

“One of my coaches put him in the game without me knowing it,” Conroy said.

With Newman in control, Peleti-Gore was tired of being a spectator. After Newman went up 21-14, he asked Conroy to play quarterback again. The results were immediate and dramatic. On the third play of the very next series Peleti-Gore ran 52 yards for a touchdown.

The game went into overtime. Cardinal Newman kicker Adrian Rubio missed a 30-yard field goal. Rancho took over. Peleti-Gore ran for nine and then from the one for the game-winner.

Because he returned to the game Peleti-Gore was asked if he was feeling any better.

“No, my ribs hurt now just as much as they did then,” Peleti-Gore said.

About an hour earlier Peleti-Gore said his ribs hurt so much he couldn’t run. Somehow he found a way to neutralize the pain. Somehow he found the inspiration. All he had to do was look across the field at the opponent.

“It’s an honor to beat Cardinal Newman,” Peleti-Gore said.

Such a simple sentence carried so many layers of meaning.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or