Football: Rancho Cotate defense sputters in opener, falls to Alhambra 47-35


MARTINEZ – Rancho Cotate might have the fastest football team in the Redwood Empire. Friday night, the Cougars met their match in Alhambra.

The host Bulldogs didn’t punt in the first half. They scored seven touchdowns on their first eight possessions, eventually wearing down Rancho and leaving with an impressive 47-35 victory in the Cougars’ season opener.

“It was on defense. That’s where we did not win this football game,” Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy said. “We could not come up with a stop. And for me, that’s about toughness.”

The Cougars did make a game of it with a late rush. Alhambra was up 47-21 and on the move again when defensive lineman Steven Endy came up with a fumble recovery. On the next play, running back Carlos Franco got to the outside, kept his feet inbounds while shaking a couple tacklers and sped 74 yards for a touchdown.

Rancho’s Justin Zinnerman recovered the ensuing onside kick, and on the following play backup quarterback Cooper Nicks laid a perfect deep pass into Zinnerman’s arms, and the Rancho Cotate track star completed a 48-yard scoring play. The Cougars managed to get the ball back one more time, but Alhambra forced them into four incompletions and sewed up the game.

The first half was an entertaining shootout as James Gonsalves, the Bulldogs’ tough, shifty running back, scored three times. Rancho quarterback Gunner Mefferd countered with 221 yards and three touchdown passes in the half, and Alhambra took a 28-21 lead into the third quarter.

The Cougars just couldn’t keep up the pace – not even after Josh Evans, Alhambra’s elusive quarterback, left the game with an injury late in the first half. Backup quarterback Mark Azevedo proved more than capable, completing 7 of 8 passes for 57 yards, running for a touchdown and passing for another.

Evans also passed for a touchdown, and had 83 rushing yards before getting hurt. Gonsalves wound up with 182 rushing yards on just 14 carries.

Rancho Cotate showed off the firepower that has the team hoping for a rebound after a disappointing 6-5 campaign in 2013. Halfback Mo Ward was dynamic, rushing for 153 yards on 20 attempts.

The athletic Chris Taylor-Yamanoha looked unbeatable on jump balls. He had 134 yards on seven catches, while Zinnerman chipped in with 123 yards on three receptions. Add wideout Joey Trono, and the Cougars can really spread the field, and Mefferd looked capable in getting the ball to his receivers.

The problem Friday was missed tackles on the other side of the ball.

“And that was not all,” Conroy said. “Missed assignments. Misalignments. Missed approach. We were really struggling on defense. We didn’t play hard up front.

Both teams had trouble in the kicking game. Rancho Cotate had a field goal blocked and missed another 3-point try, though Keven Nguyen hit all five of his extra-point tries. Alhambra had two PATs blocked (by Mo Ward and Josiah Guerra) and had another end in an incomplete pass after the kick went awry.

Rancho begins the season 0-1, while the Bulldogs improve to 2-0 after a Week 1 trouncing of College Park.

Conroy sat three players because of disciplinary reasons Friday. He’s hoping the result is a wakeup call for a team that can score plenty of points – but has yet to prove it can prevent an opponent from doing the same.

“This is not the end of the football season,” Conroy told his players after the game. “This is a speed bump.”

And quite a speedy bump at that.

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  • Rod M

    It’s OK Rancho. Alhambra was tough and fast; no doubt about it. There is a lot of football left. You can do this…….