Football: Maria Carrillo rallies to stun Rancho Cotate 34-28


The Maria Carrillo football team scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to hand Rancho Cotate its first loss in North Bay League play, 34-28 Friday night in Santa Rosa.

“This game is a really big turning point for us,” said Maria Carrillo senior running back Alex Netherda. “This season, we’ve been good in the beginning, but we will lose it. Tonight, we fought and we finished.”

With a 3-0 North Bay League record heading into Friday’s matchup, the Cougars rolled with their momentum and opened the scoring in the first minute of play, as Oscar Nava pushed for the 1-yard touchdown.

The Pumas’ Netherda answered with a 35-yard carry to tie the game 7-7 as the first quarter came to a close.

Despite their momentum, the Cougars’ objective was not to look past a team with a 1-3 record.

“We didn’t want to overlook them,” said Rancho Cotate head coach Ed Conroy. “That was our whole goal but we didn’t play good enough defense.”

The second quarter was more of Rancho’s show of offense, as Carlos Franco ran for the touchdown and Gunner Mefferd threw a pass to Justin Zinnerman for the 45-yard touchdown and the 21-7 lead at halftime.

With a two-touchdown deficit, Maria Carrillo saw its offensive line click, Netherda said, and they finally found the ability to execute and capitalize on opportunity when they needed to most.

“The last couple of weeks, our offensive line as been struggling to find our groove,” Netherda said. “Tonight they just really held it down.”

Netherda ran for an 11-yard touchdown and Walker Rotherham recovered a Cougars fumble and returned the ball for a touchdown and the Pumas found themselves within one point of a tie game.

Rancho Cotate’s Mefferd found Mo Ward for the Cougars’ final touchdown of the night and a 28-20 lead, but the Pumas weren’t going away.

Netherda continued to lead Maria Carrillo as he ran for 50 yards and a touchdown and then completed the Pumas two-point conversion attempt to tie the game at 28-28 heading into the final quarter.

Maria Carrillo found the exact moment to capitalize on, as Fahestus Chomba intercepted Mefferd’s pass and returned the ball to the end zone as the home crowd erupted.

“We hurt ourselves a lot tonight,” Conroy said. “We played well enough on offense, but we could just not slow them down.”

Michael Ross played really well on defense, he added, even though the line as a whole wasn’t as good on Friday night.

In recent weeks, Maria Carrillo has been able to put up plenty of points, Netherda said, but has not been able to outscore their opponents and that was the difference in their win.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense and they played really tight tonight,” he said. “It was really, really gritty and tough defense and that’s what helped us put a stop on them.”

The Pumas improved their overall record to 4-4 and 1-3 in the NBL, while it was the Cougars’ first league loss of the season to put them at 4-3 overall.

“Everybody knows Rancho is a good team to compete with,” Netherda said, “and I hope this gives us some momentum to roll into other games.”

For the Cougars, the breakdowns will be evaluated and the mistakes eliminated as they deal with this stumble in their already successful season, Conroy said.

“Our offense is a bright spot for us,” he said, “but we have to play better defense.”