Rancho loses thriller in final minute

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

OAKLAND — Concord scored with 16 seconds remaining to snatch victory from Rancho Cotate, 40-37, in the North Coast Section Division 2 title game here Saturday night.

Rancho Cotate's Brian Dworkin returns a kickoff for a touchdown Saturday against Concord in the NCS Division 2 championship at the Oakland Coliseum. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

Ricky Lloyd fired a pass to Sitani Molupo that just eluded defender Xavier Griffin’s dive. Molupo caught the ball at the 10-yard line and tiptoed down the sidelines for the touchdown.

In a great high school game, No. 3 seed Rancho took the lead 37-34 with 7:47 remaining on a circus catch by Sean Fish. The wide receiver caught an 11-yard pass from Poueu Peleti-Gore in the corner of the end zone and after Julio Mata’s extra point, the Cougars were feeling pretty good.

They were actually feeling confident a minute or two later when Lloyd fumbled the ball and Justin Martin pounced on it at the Concord 30. However, the drive stalled and Concord got one last chance.

“I thought we were going to win when we recovered that fumble,” senior Mike Tuaua said. “I thought we were going to score again and go up by 10. Their defense stepped up, though.”

It was a heroic effort by Tuaua. He had to be helped off the field twice after reinjuring his shoulder.

Rancho started out quickly against the No. 1 seed. The Rohnert Park team put 14 points on the board while running only six plays. Running back Brian Dworkin scored both on runs of 13 and 77 yards. Later in the first half, he ran a kickoff back for 72 yards.

Dworkin rushed for 133 yards on 11 carries.

“The kids played their hearts out,” coach Ed Conroy said. “We had to stop them on that final drive and couldn’t do it. They’re a very good team and we were right there with them all the way.”

Lloyd threw for five touchdowns while completing 21 of 34 passes for 325 yards. The senior, who is going to Southern Mississippi next year, finished the season with Northern California records for touchdowns (52) and passing yards (4,451).

Alex Pica led the Minutemen’s (13-1) rushing attack with 180 yards on 24 carries.

“Lloyd just throws the ball so hard, he’s tough to defend,” Conroy said. “It’s like in baseball when you’re facing pitchers that throw 65 miles per hour all year and then you come up against a guy that throws 95. That kind of speed is going to present some problems.”

After Rancho (12-2) jumped to a 14-0 lead, Lloyd brought Concord back with scoring throws of 25, 67 and 12 yards.

Rancho led 21-20 at the half, before Concord took the lead on a 43-yard pass from Lloyd to Kelly Starnes to make it 28-20.

The Cougars got closer midway through the third quarter when Lloyd could not get away from Tuaua in the end zone and was whistled for a safety. That made it 28-23.

Rancho regained the lead on a 17-yard pass from Peleti-Gore to Fish with 5:40 remaining in the third.

The lead went back to Concord late in the third when Pica appeared to be stopped for no gain at the 5-yard line, but somehow managed to keep moving forward until he crossed paydirt.

That set the stage for Fish’s circus catch and what the several thousand Rancho fans in attendance were hoping would be the winning score. However, it was Concord that wrote the storybook ending.