By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A closer look at Friday's NCS championship game:
RANCHO COTATE (13-0) vs. CLAYTON VALLEY (11-1)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. at Diablo Valley College
Last week: Rancho defeated Northgate, 30-17. Clayton beat Concord, 49-22.
Notable: Two of the most prolific running backs in Northern California will see action in this Division 2 title game…Rancho's Jalon Luque has rushed for 1,945 yards which averages out to 11 1/2 yards per touch and 24 touchdowns. Clayton's Joe Protheroe has 2,091 yards, an average of just under 16 per carry and he's scored 23 touchdowns. Protheroe is 6-foot-1 and weighs 205 while Luque is 5-foot-9 and 160…Luque has set nearly every school rushing record during his senior season and he figures to eclipse two more tonight. A touchdown will give him the record of 25 and any points scored will put him in the record book. He's at 110 going into the game…Ed Conroy calls Luque one of the best runners he's coached in 25 years at Rancho. "He's got great vision and balance," Conroy said. "Of course, he's got good speed."…Every successful running back needs a good offensive line to create holes. Playing in front of Luque are: Austin Davis, AJ Davison, Hector Hernandez, Nick Reynolds and Tyler Rosentreter…Rancho's defense has been stingy all year, allowing nine points per game. However, they've never gone up against an offense like Clayton Valley. "They run what looks like an offset I-formation," Conroy said. "They run a lot of different options off that and they do it really well. To contain them, our defense is going to have to recognize where the ball is going early."…Clayton Valley's scoring average is 52 compared to 32 for the Cougars…Conroy says the key for his team is to slow down the Eagles' offense. "Also, we're going to need to score points about every time we get the ball," he said. "Conditioning could play a role."…The Concord school has 62 players on its roster compared to 37 for the Cougars…Clayton Valley's defensive numbers aren't as low as Rancho's. The Eagles give up 18 points per game…Rancho has thrown the ball a lot more than Clayton (171 to 54). QB Michael Courchaine has tossed a school record 21 TDs while his counterpart, Michael Protheroe has thrown nine. Michael is a junior and his brother, Joe, is a senior…Leading tacklers for Rancho are: Fono Misi 138, Ty Brantley 116, Carlos Soto 99 and Tanoa Peleti 86…The teams have played two common opponents. The Eagles defeated Montgomery, 57-35, and Northgate, 41-21. Rancho beat the Vikings, 34-0, and handled Northgate, 30-17…Rancho Cotate is the No. 2 in the bracket and Clayton Valley is No. 1.
The pick: Clayton Valley 27, Rancho Cotate 21