NCS football: Cougars dismantle overmatched Arroyo squad

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

ROHNERT PARK — Walking off the field Friday night Ed Conroy, Rancho Cotate’s head coach, had to say something before he said anything else.

Rancho Cotate's Ricky Garcia dives into the endzone past Arroyo's Justin Porter, bottom, during the first round of playoffs held at Rancho Cotate High School, Nov. 19, 2010. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

“I always worry,” Conroy said.

“When did you stop worrying tonight?”

“In the first quarter,” Conroy admitted, blushing just a bit. Coaches, especially ones that worry like Conroy, never think they’ll make that kind of statement after a playoff game. The playoffs are for the survivors of the regular season, and for the conquerors as well, the result of which is a winner who scratches out a victory.

Rancho didn’t scratch out a victory Friday night. Rancho bulldozed it, plowed poor Arroyo under, overwhelmed Arroyo to the point that, frankly, you felt a little sorry for the team from San Lorenzo. Rancho won, 51-0, and it could have been 61-0 or 75-0. Pick a number. Any number. Just make it a large one.

“We just took it to them,” said Rancho’s Brian Dworkin, who established a school record for returning an interception for a touchdown, running 98 yards with his theft with 5:52 in the third quarter. He broke the former record of 92 yards, set by Sean Mitchell in 2006 against Elsie Allen.

Ninety-eight yards is an absurdly long distance to run a pick back but then again, this game provided the prototype for the absurd number.

Consider this absurdity: The Cougars didn’t complete one pass all night, going 0-for-8 in the rain, yet they scored seven touchdowns.

And consider this absurdity: Rancho scored touchdowns from 23, 42, 55, 71, 85, 98 yards. That quarterback Ricky Garcia scored on a seven-yard run in the first quarter, well, I think maybe they should have thrown that one back, like a fish too small. It became silly absurd, like if a Rancho player couldn’t score from at least 30 yards, it wouldn’t count.

And that 30-yard field goal by Julio Mata in the first quarter, they should have erased that one on general principles, like getting penalized for piling it on, like having too much whipped cream on a banana split.

It was a coaches’ dream, all those long and sudden touchdowns, because no one expects to put together a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the pouring, cold rain. Too many opportunities for a wet football to be lost. Dworkin had that 71-yard run but only touched the ball six other times on offense, totally 100 yards rushing. And that maybe the best compliment paid to Rancho Friday night: They didn’t need the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and total offense.

Not necessary when Sean Fish returns a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Not necessary when Poueu Peleti-Gore ran 55 yards with a quarterback keeper in the third quarter. Not necessary when Jerry Keophilaphanh ran back an interception 42 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Not necessary when Rancho held Arroyo to 19 yards total offense in the first half. Not necessary when Arroyo’s Michael Young — the team’s answer in size and speed to Dworkin — managed only 45 yards on 18 carries. Young was supposed to be as fast as Dworkin but the Cougar defense slapped handcuffs on him early and never took them off. Getting behind early Arroyo had to pass much more than what was comfortable and it showed. The Dons were intercepted four times with passes that looked like falling ducks shot from the sky.

“My defense has been playing great for quite a while,” said Conroy, savoring Rancho’s first playoff victory since 2007. And it contained a second coaches dream — offense, defense and special teams were all dominant. No one could say there was a single moment in which the game turned — unless you consider Rancho taking the field.

“We didn’t know how good they were going to be,” said Dworkin, trying to be kind as possible.

The game wasn’t a challenge but, ironically enough, what happens in the next week will be Conroy’s biggest challenge. How to keep his team sharp, that’s his task. A 51-0 victory can tend to inflate confidence to a destructive degree. Rancho has to cut this one loose as quickly as possible.

And try to forget the unforgettable: James Barnes, Arroyo’s coach, asked the officials to begin a running clock with one minute left in the third quarter. Get this one over, Barnes wanted. Put this one in our rear view mirror, that’s what Ed Conroy will want.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blog.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.