NBL football: Cougars come up big in 21-14 win

By PETER FOURNIER
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy is glad Cardinal Newman didn’t have his team’s number this year.

In a game that saw four touchdowns of 30 yards or longer and another set up by a 44-yard run, perhaps the biggest plays were made by the Rancho Cotate defense, as the Cougars knocked off fellow North Bay League giant Cardinal Newman 21-14 Friday night in Rohnert Park.

“We don’t beat Cardinal Newman that often,” Conroy said. “To come in here and be 8-0 and have them be 8-0 in a game was huge. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

With Cardinal Newman (8-1, 5-1) trying to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, Rancho Cotate twice stopped Newman on downs with the Cardinals driving inside the Cougars’ 30-yard line.

Those late defensive stops added to a 34-yard interception return by Rancho’s Josh Belda in the first quarter which gave the Cougars a two-score advantage just minutes into the game.

Cardinals’ quarterback Keaton Dunsford started a Cardinal Newman comeback late in the second quarter. On third-and-11 from the Cougars’ 45 and with an empty backfield, Dunsford called his own number, dashing 44 yards down the left sideline to set-up a first-and-goal at the Rancho 1. Dunsford would sneak it in on the very next play to cut the deficit to 13-7.

Newman then took the lead before the Cougars offense touched the ball in the third quarter. Jacob Webb returned the second-half kickoff 85 yards to put the Cardinals in front 14-13.

Rancho (9-0, 6-0) took the lead for good late in the third when Jalon Luque dashed for an 82-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion gave the Rancho a seven-point advantage.

The Cardinals best chance to tie the game came later in the fourth quarter, with the ball inside the Cougars’ nine, but the Rancho defense stopped Newman’s Philip Wright on back-to-back handoffs to force a turnover on downs.

“Maybe we could look at that film and we could do some better things fundamentally but it’s not brain surgery when it’s fourth and one,” Cardinals coach Paul Cronin said. “You got to give your best guy the ball, and you got to block (for) him, and you got to get the first down. I don’t regret anything on that decision.”

Conroy said stopping Dunsford in the second half was key.

“Later in the game, we got a lot more defensive pressure on the quarterback,” Conroy said. “I don’t know how many sacks we had total but we sacked him a few more times in the second half and we pressured that guy.”

The Cardinals got one last chance to tie the game with 55 seconds left in the game, but the Cougars’ defense stopped the drive cold. Dunsford was sacked on the very first play by Tanoa Peleti.

“I just knew that if I got outside, and try to get the right guard to not to be able to see me, that I can get a delayed blitz and I know Dunsford was going to have to struggle because we were in a man defense and our coverage covered them pretty hard,” Peleti said. “So I just took advantage of the whole, got in there as fast as I could and made the play.”

The second play of the drive saw Dunsford throw an interception into the hands of Chris Taylor-Yamanoha in the closing seconds of regulation to end the game.

Cronin said the loss could be a great learning tool for later in the season.

“I’ve lost some games before in my life,” he said. “I’ll lose more.

“It’s not something that you can be scared to do if you coach football or play football.”