Cougars crush Panthers, await NCS playoff seeding

Michael Ross (1) tries to block a punt by Santa Rosa High kicker Ben Cutcher (87) during the first half of the Rancho Cotate home game against Santa Rosa High Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. (Photo: Erik Castro / for The Press Democrat)

Michael Ross (1) tries to block a punt by Santa Rosa High kicker Ben Cutcher (87) during the first half of the Rancho Cotate home game against Santa Rosa High Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. (Photo: Erik Castro / for The Press Democrat)

By RICHARD J. MARCUS

FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

ROHNERT PARK — As expected, the host Cougars took care of business on Friday night as they overwhelmed the Panthers 54-7 and locked up a share of the NBL regular season title.

Unfortunately for Rancho Cotate (7-3, 6-1), Cardinal Newman squeaked out a 23-20 win over Windsor on Friday night, splitting the NBL title between the Cougars and Cardinals.

However, due to a tie-breaker procedure that took place before the season, Cardinal Newman will go into the NCS Division 3 playoffs as the NBL champion and will automatically earn a home game.

Rancho, meanwhile, will be an at-large selection and a home game is not guaranteed.

Rancho beat Cardinal Newman this season, but the Cougars’ lone loss in the NBL to Maria Carrillo cost them. The NCS selection committee will release the teams in the Division 3 playoffs and their respective seeding on Sunday morning.

“I think we deserve a home game but it doesn’t matter at this point, we will play who we play,” Rancho coach Ed Conroy said. “I have no idea where we will be seeded, probably a 5, 6, or 7 seed — somewhere in the middle of the pack. We are happy to be in the playoffs and that we finished the season strong.”

For Rancho, it is their third NBL title in five years. The Cougars won the league outright in 2010 and 2012.
“The key to our season was the development of our offense,” Conroy said. “Our defense also played well and our special teams play was good.”

The Cougars had their second cakewalk in a row, defeating Ukiah 60-0 last week and defeating Santa Rosa by 47 points on Friday. Conroy was asked if having two runaway games to end the season could take the edge off the Cougars right before playoffs start.

“It could be a negative, but that is the way the schedule worked out,” Conroy said. “I would have liked to play more competitive teams at the end of the season, but I don’t make up the schedule.”

Santa Rosa (1-9, 1-6) didn’t have much of a chance against the Cougars and finished a disappointing season on a low. The Panthers trailed 21-0 with 3:43 to play in the first quarter.

Rancho’s first three touchdowns came on a 2-yard run by Michael Ross, a nifty 46-yard punt return for a score by Joey Trono, who took a very circuitous route to the end zone, and a 1-yard run by Carlos Franco.

“Rancho is a good football team, they are well coached,” Santa Rosa coach Dave Duncan said. “How far they go in the playoffs depends on where they are seeded, but they will compete.”

One of the few highlights for Santa Rosa was its lone touchdown, a 5-yard scoring pass from quarterback Harvey McPeters to receiver Kalei Aukai to cut the Rancho lead to 21-7 right before the end of the 1st quarter.

Rancho responded with a 12-yard scoring scamper by quarterback Gunner Mefferd to give the Cougars a 28-7 lead, and the rout was on.

“We executed early and finished fast tonight,” Mefferd said. “We haven’t seen legitimate competition in the past two weeks, but we will be all right in the playoffs. We are pulling everything together at the end of the season and we have the ability to go as far as we want to go in the post-season.”

Rancho finished out the game with touchdown runs of 2 and 11 yards by Cooper Nicks, a 31-yard jaunt by Franco and a 60-yard interception touchdown return by Ross to cap the game and the regular season.

“There are places we can still get better, but I think we are playing really well right now,” Conroy said.

“I look at our team as the team that no one wants to play in the playoffs,” he added.