Time ran out on Rancho Cotate

Rancho Cotate's Poueu Peleti-Gore is emotional after Saturday night's heartbreaking loss in the North Coast Section Division 2 championship game.

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In sports parlance, there’s a saying that a game is so close, the team that has the ball last will probably win.
Saturday night, with the NCS Division 2 football championship on the line at the Oakland Coliseum, Rancho Cotate had the ball last but just ran out of time.
The Cougars gave up the lead to top-seeded Concord with 16 seconds remaining and then almost pulled off the miracle comeback. However, the gun sounded with the Cougars on the Minutemen’s 24-yard line.

After reliving the game in his mind countless times, star running back Brian Dworkin is now able to put the game in perspective.
“We didn’t lose, we just ran out of time,” he said. “If we just had time to run another play or two, we could’ve come back and won. The guys all feel this way, that’s why it hurts so much. We were picking up big yards, we just needed a few more seconds.”

Dworkin, as usual, had an outstanding game. After the Cougars’ first six plays from scrimmage, the 175-pound senior had already scored on runs of 13 and 77 yards to put his team up 14-0 with 6:54 left in the first period.
Then, 46 seconds before halftime when Concord took the lead for the first time (20-14), he returned the kickoff 72 yards for a touchdown. Julio Mata’s extra point gave Rancho a one-point lead going to the locker room. By the end of the night, Dworkin had rushed for 133 yards on 11 carries.

The Cougars were a dazed group afterward, some crying while others just looked off into space.
“It was a great game to be part of,” Dworkin said. “None of us that played will ever forget it. Right now, it hurts because we played so hard all year only to have it end with us giving up the lead and then almost coming back in the final seconds.”
The Cougars took the lead, 37-34, with 7:47 remaining and had an opportunity to tack on another seven after Justin Martin recovered a fumble at the Concord 30. An excessive celebration penalty moved the ball back to the 45. Rancho moved the ball to within 13 yards of the end zone, but wound up losing nine yards on the next four plays and turned the ball over on downs.

Concord got the ball back with 2:55 remaining and that was enough time for Northern California’s most prolific passer, Ricky Lloyd, to lead his team to the winning score. The senior’s fifth touchdown pass of the game was a 24-yarder to Sitani Molupo. Lloyd set Northern California records this year with 4,451 passing yards and 52 touchdowns.

After having time to digest the particulars of the game, Rancho coach Ed Conroy bemoaned the defensive mistakes his team made.

“We played hard, but we didn’t do a great job of containing their quarterback and a number of times we blew receiver coverage,” he said. “A great quarterback will make you pay and Lloyd is a great high school quarterback.
“We knew we had to stop them on their last drive and couldn’t do it.”
The Minutemen (13-1) also took out Maria Carrillo and Casa Grande en route to the title.
Rancho appeared to have several thousand supporters in the stands who were louder than the Concord fans.

Rancho Cotate's Poueu Peleti-Gore is emotional after Saturday night's loss in the North Coast Section Division 2 championship game. Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

“We’ve had great fan support all season,” Conroy said. “The community really got behind us and we fed off that spirit. I like to think the reason for the support is that people see the coaching staff does more than just work with the kids on football.
“It was a great season for the players, coaches and our fans.”
For Dworkin and his teammates, they wish it would’ve lasted a minute longer.