Rancho Cotate 24, Pinole Valley 7

Well, this one will go down in Rancho Cotate history all right. Make no mistake about that.
This one will be remembered for The Known — the Rancho defense — and The Unknown, Michael Courchaine, a sophomore quarterback who thought he would spend the North Coast Section playoffs watching and learning from Poueu Peleti-Gore. Courchaine is a 15-year-old who missed five weeks of his junior varsity season with a broken ring finger on his left hand, a kid so new to the Cougars he didn’t have his last name on the back of his jersey.
Yes, I might be putting a little more emphasis on Courchaine and I apologize for that at the outset. Brian Dworkin ran for 208 yards and three TDs, and the Cougars move to the NCS Division 2 title game for the first time in eight years, playing Concord next week at the Oakland Coliseum after a significant performance against Pinole Valley on Saturday night, a 24-7 victory that showed how the Cougars handle adversity — with the kind of poise that separates winners from those who are just thinking about it.
No place is better to begin and end this game than what happened in the fourth quarter, when all the pressure real or imagined sat square on the backs of the Cougars. The score was 21-7 and Pinole Valley had driven 42 yards to Rancho’s 8 for a first-and-goal. But the Cougars stuffed three running plays for 7 yards and forced an incompletion. It was their second goal-line stand of the game.
“Our defense won the game,” said Cougars coach Ed Conroy.
For the third straight playoff game, Rancho faced a run-heavy offense. Pinole Valley averaged 34 points a game, most of those points coming on the ground.
“Which played to our strength, our run defense,” Conroy said.
That the Cougars play tough defense is not a surprise. What wasn’t known, what was very, very unknown, was how Courchaine would react to being told he would start the second half at quarterback. Peleti-Gore had suffered a concussion late in the second quarter when his helmet-to-helmet hit on Pinole Valley’s Carvonte Hill at Rancho’s 3-yard line ended the Cougars’ first goal-line stand. The second-string quarterback, Ricky Garcia, was out with a concussion he suffered last week against Clayton Valley
“I told Michael at halftime, don’t do anything stupid,” Conroy said. “Play smart.”
Did Courchaine exceed Conroy’s expectations? After a second of pause, Conroy responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes.”
This was Courchaine’s first game as a varsity quarterback and it was in an NCS playoff game, coming in cold.
“Coach told me not to be nervous,” Courchaine said.
Were you?
“Yeah,” Courchaine said, “and then I got hit on my second play and I relaxed. It didn’t hurt that much. It was still a football game. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything to lose the game for the seniors.”
Courchaine did better than that and how he did it will enter Rancho lore. After that second goal-line stand in the fourth, Rancho took the ball at its 1-yard line. As they say, this was a tipping point. Courchaine flubs up, panics, and Pinole Valley scores and it’s a one-touchdown game with the Cougars’ starting quarterback on the bench.
What does Courchaine do on that first-and-10 at his own 1? He draws Pinole Valley offside! It’s a veteran move, the kind that even some seniors don’t handle. Courchaine took Rancho down the field in 12 plays — counting two Pinole Valley penalties. Julio Mata kicked a 37-yard field goal for the cherry on top.
“I think I probably surprised some people,” Courchaine said.
Of course, lost in all the defense and Courchaine’s stable hand was another stellar game from Dworkin. He scored three times, from 3, 50 and 95 yards. He had nine carries for 165 yards at halftime and finished with 208 on 18 carries.
To say that Dworkin likes the turf was obvious. To say Rancho likes someone to stuff the ball down its throat, that’s obvious. To say that everyone knew Michael Courchaine would play like this in his first varsity game, no one could say they saw that coming.
Which is precisely why this game will go down in school history. Brilliance is best remembered and cherished when it comes in all forms.
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