By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
EL SOBRANTE — The deepest football playoff run ever for Analy ended against supremely talented El Cerrito, yet there was little disappointment for the Tigers.
Shut out in the first half, Analy played El Cerrito even in the second half and players did not hang their heads despite the 40-20 defeat Friday. Coming up one game short of the North Coast Section Division 3 finals is the mark of a great team.
“We expected to go far. We just had the chemistry,” said senior Kyle Lewis, a catalyst on offense.
Slowing down El Cerrito in the final two periods was a defense that made up for a deficit in speed with disciplined tackling led by senior linebacker Zavi Ginella.
“What a great senior year. There’s nothing more I can ask for, except to beat this team,” Ginella said.
While the Tigers finished strong, a spotty first two quarters put Analy in a hole they couldn’t claw out of in the game played at DeAnza High, in Richmond.
Remaining undefeated took more work than El Cerrito needed to reach the semifinal contest with Analy.
“Analy’s a well-oiled, refined football team,” said El Cerrito coach Kenny Kahn. “Both of us came in with a lot of confidence.”
To finish the season 12-1 was a remarkable accomplishment, one for the record books, said Analy coach Dan Bourdon.
“That’s a great team we played. But the fellas kept fighting,” Bourdon said. “Playing 13 games in a season is a great season.”
Falling behind one of the Bay Area’s top teams, a squad with a handful of major college prospects, was not how Analy scripted a potential upset.
El Cerrito scored on the game’s first series, going 59 yards on 10 plays. Then the Gauchos attempted to drop the hammer on Analy early, but the Tigers prevented big plays to keep the contest close.
The normally explosive Analy offense, however, didn’t make a first down until near the end of the first quarter. Analy’s best first-half drive produced a missed field goal.
With quarterback Keilan Benjamin guiding a balanced El Cerrito offense, the Gauchos gabbled up 179 yards to Analy’s 91 yards — nearly a third coming on one run — in the first two quarters.
Six of Benjamin’s first-half completions came on the Gauchos’ third scoring drive. The elusive signal caller with the strong arm connected with four different receivers, the last a 9-yard toss across the field to Jalen Harvey.
A fumbled kickoff gave El Cerrito a short field to put away the game with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter. But the Tigers kept receivers in front of them and forced the Gauchos to attempt a field goal that missed.
The second half began ominously. El Cerrito needed just four plays to go 42 yards and score to go up 25-0 on another touchdown pass to Harvey.
The Tigers responded with an inspired drive. The big play was a 36-yard pass from Darin Newman to Aaron Maher. Ja’Narrick James finished it off with a 1-yard scoring scamper, the first of his two touchdowns on the night.
A workhorse on offense for Analy was Lewis. On the ground, Lewis grinded for 51 tough yards. He also caught four passes for 71 yards.
Analy’s go-to receiver on the night was Dylan Mathias. The senior hauled in seven balls for 72 yards and a diving touchdown.
Not satisfied with avoiding a shutout following Analy’s first score, the Tigers would dig in and match El Cerrito the rest of the way.
“They were just a cocky team,” Lewis said. “We showed them that just because we come from a small town doesn’t mean we can’t play with them.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.