Rancho Cotate 20, Maria Carrillo 14, OT: Cougars claim NBL regular-season championship

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rancho Cotate quarterback Poueu Peleti-Gore scored on a one-yard run in overtime as the Cougars defeated Maria Carrillo, 20-14, wrapping up the North Bay League title and a berth in the upcoming North Coast Section playoffs.

Rancho Cotate's Jason Celi finds an open route during the game held at Maria Carrillo High School, Nov. 12, 2010. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

Peleti-Gore’s touchdown came after the Pumas failed to score on the first possession of overtime. John Durand missed a 27-yard field on fourth and 10.

Like Carrillo, the Cougars started their possession 10 yards away from paydirt. On their first play, halfback Brian Dworkin ran it to the 1. On the next play, Peleti-Gore’s run ended the game.

“The play came in from the sidelines,” Peleti-Gore said. “The call was to fake a hand-off and then to take off around left end. I could’ve called an audible depending on their defensive alignment, but I liked what I saw when we broke the huddle.

“I faked a hand-off and took off. As I was getting to the outside, I could see that I was going to get in the end zone. What a great feeling that was.”

Rancho Cotate finished league with a 7-0 mark. Cardinal Newman took second at 6-1 followed by Maria Carrillo at 5-2.

The victory assures Rancho an automatic berth when the NCS Division II teams are bracketed Sunday. The Pumas will get an invite, but won’t be seeded as high as the Cougars.

Rancho scored on its first possession when Kevin Castillo caught a 20-yard pass from Peleti-Gore. Defensive back Nick Pinney tipped the ball and Castillo picked off the deflection in the end zone. The Cougars made it 7-0 on Julio Mata’s kick.

Maria Carrillo scored on a one-yard plunge by quarterback Sam Atoe to pull within one 5:22 before halftime. However, Carlos Soto blocked Durand’s kick.

The Pumas took the lead with 7:40 remaining in the third quarter on a seven-yard run up the middle by Jake Delfino. Atoe connected with Julian Gonzalez for a two-point conversion.

Trailing for the first time this season in NBL play, Rancho wasted little time coming back to tie the score. In fact, it took only eight seconds and one play from scrimmage.

Dworkin, Rancho’s all-time rushing leader with nearly 3,000 yards, scampered 71 for the touchdown, and Mata’s extra point tied the game.

It stayed that way until overtime. Rancho won the toss and elected to give Carrillo the ball first.

“I’d make that decision every time,” Rancho coach Ed Conroy said. “We see what they do and that gives us options.

“Even though we were playing at their field, I felt confident going into overtime. I felt like we were the fresher team. All those conditioning drills in the summer and through the season were going to pay off.”

On the first play of overtime, Atoe picked up four yards. On the second play, Mike Tuaua made the defensive play of the game. He wrapped up Gonzalez in the backfield for a five-yard loss. On third down, Atoe threw an incomplete pass and Rancho took over.

Dworkin wound up with 163 yards on 11 carries. Jason Celli had 62 on 14 carries.

For Carrillo, Atoe rushed for 95 yards and Delfino had 54 before injuring a leg on the touchdown run. Emilio Pollock carried nine time for 44 yards.

“I thought we did a pretty fair job in containing their offense,” Carrillo coach Jay Higgins said. “They have so many weapons coming from that option offense.

“I felt we made too many mistakes. We were a little overanxious and when we finally settled down, we did fine. It was a good game between two evenly matched teams.”

After starting out the season 1-3, the Pumas end up 6-4. Rancho is 9-1. Its only loss came in the season opener, 23-21, at Pinole Valley.