By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Last year, Rancho Cotate put more points on the scoreboard than any team in the North Bay League.
Look for the Cougars to do the same this season.
In fact, Rancho could surpass the 39 points per game it averaged in 2014.
The reason for the prediction is that the Cougars return their two main offensive cogs — quarterback Gunner Mefferd and wide receiver Chris Taylor-Yamanoa. The former, despite missing three games lasty season with a concussion, threw 22 touchdown passes and averaged nearly 168 passing yards per game. The latter hauled in 70 passes, including 15 for touchdowns.
“I think we have the best quarterback and receiver in Sonoma County,” coach Ed Conroy said. “Both are seniors now, so we’re anticipating big things.
“We have a great offensive team. The holes we have are on defense.”
Conroy, in his 28th year at Rancho, thinks this squad has the potential to be one of his better teams.
That’s high praise considering his 2001 and 2002 teams captured NCS Redwood Empire 3A titles and the 2010 squad narrowly lost the NCS Division 2 title game to Concord, 40-37.
Mefferd is as optimistic as his coach about the upcoming season.
“I think the offense has gotten better,” he said.”Our goal is to improve every day.”
Rancho will once again be using the spread offense and this season the coaches are giving Mefferd more leeway.
“I think the coaches have more faith in me because this is my third year as a starter,” he said. “Also, I’ve worked hard studying defenses.”
In Taylor-Yamanoha and running back Mo Ward, Mefferd has blue-chip options.
“I’ve been throwing the ball to Chris since we were 13 years old,” Mefferd said. “He has good football sense and I have confidence he’s going to find a way to get himself open.”
At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Taylor-Yamanoha has been on the radar of college recruiters since his sophomore year.
Rancho also has a strong running game with Ward leading the attack. Last year, despite missing two games, he rushed for 524 yards while departed senior Carlos Franco racked up 935 yards.
“Mo Ward is going to have a breakout year,” Mefferd predicted. “He’s gotten stronger and is a hard worker. It’s going to pay off for him.”
Danny Shelton will also be getting a lot of touches.
A key component to any successful offense is the line and that’s true with the Rancho team. Playing in front of Mefferd will be Brandon Boccaleoni, Soni Misi, Billy With, Johnny Shahin and Jacob Juarez.
Boccaleoni, at 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds, is one of the top linemen in the Redwood Empire.
Oh, about that defense that concerned Conroy before the start of practice season.
“That group is looking better every day,” the coach said. “We just need some guys to step up and play consistently.
“All in all, I have a good feeling about this team.”
RANCHO COTATE COUGARS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Ed Conroy (28th year)
2014 record: 9-4, 6-1 NBL
JV record: 3-7, 2-5 NBL
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gunner Mefferd. SR., QB: Third-year starter has added weight (200 pounds) and height (6 foot-4) since last year.
Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, SR., WR/CB: Going to University of Louisville on scholarship next year.
Mo Ward, SR., RB/SS: Figures to be the top ground-gainer out of the Cougars’ spread offense.
Brandon Boccaleoni, SR., OL/ DL: One of the biggest linemen in the NBL at 275 pounds, also one of the best.
GAME NOT TO MISS
Oct. 9 at Cardinal Newman: The Cougars and Cardinals tied for the NBL crown last year. The 2015 clash is certain to have title ramifications.
In 2002, Rancho won its second consecutive North Coast Section Redwood Empire 3A championship beating Montgomery in a rematch of the 2001 title game.
Sept. 4, Alhambra, 7:30
Sept. 11, Vanden, 7:30
Sept. 18, at Antioch, 7:30
Sept. 25, Casa Grande*, 7:30
Oct. 2, at Montgomery, 7:30
Oct. 9, at Cardinal Newman, 7:00
Oct. 16, Maria Carrillo, 7:30
Oct. 23, Windsor, 7:30
Oct. 30, Ukiah, 7:30
Nov. 6, at Santa Rosa, 7:30
* at Santa Rosa Junior College