When the Clayton Valley High Eagles were looking for a perk-me-up Friday night in their North Coast Section Division II championship game, they did what they’ve been doing all season. They poured themselves a big cup of Joe.
Actually, make that several cups of Joe.
Joe Protheroe, Clayton Valley’s dynamite tailback in its double-wing attack, ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns plus returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards for a back-breaking third touchdown as the Eagles rolled to a 35-7 victory over previously undefeated Rancho Cotate High in the title game played at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill.
While Protheroe was the workhorse with 25 carries, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior captain had plenty of help as top-seeded Clayton Valley (12-1) claimed an impressive victory over Rancho Cotate (13-1) from Rohnert Park.
Their defense put the Eagles in command early, when Curtis Grant on the third play of the game intercepted a pass by Rancho quarterback Michael Courchaine and returned it 31 yards to the Cougars’ 14.
In the second quarter, a snap in the shotgun formation that sailed high over Courchaine’s head was recovered by Eagles’ two-way lineman Logan Bangert at the Rohnert Park school’s 2-yard line to set up another touchdown.
Defensive back Garrett Nelson also intercepted another pass late in the final minute of the first half and returned it 45 yards to the Rancho Cotate 17 to set up a touchdown that made it 28-0.
But around all these opportunities, it was Joe, more Joe and more Joe that Clayton Valley dialed up.
“It was a team effort, we all played hard,” said Joe Protheroe, whose younger brother, junior Mike Protheroe, completed four of five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, plus ran 2 yards for another score.
Senior Joe, backed up his coach, Tim Murphy, who had said a few minutes after the game the tailback seemed a little nervous in this game. But Joe P said he prefers it that way.
“Yeah, I was nervous ’cause I didn’t want to get too big-headed,” the senior captain said. “I like going into games being nervous with butterflies, not knowing if we’re going to win for sure. It just helps me.”
While the turnovers (five in all) were huge, the Eagles’ one sustained, long touchdown drive had to be devastating mentally for the team from Sonoma County.
Starting with 3:26 left in the first quarter, Clayton Valley, with a 7-0 lead, went on a 19-play, 69-yard drive that ate up 10:03 on the game clock, with Clayton Valley converting on three fourth downs.
On fourth-and-6 at their 46, the Eagles pitched it to Joe on a sweep to the right for 7 yards. On fourth-and-4 at the Cougars’ 41, Protheroe blasted up the middle for 10 yards. Then on fourth-and-1, he ripped 12 yards for his second touchdown. e earlier had shot 9 yards for the game’s first touchdown after Grant’s interception.
Grant said he and Protheroe have been playing football on the same team since they were 5 years old. “He’s a great leader,” Grant said.
On his interception, Grant said, “We knew they were going to try to hit some big plays on us, and when I saw the quarterback about to throw my way, I jumped on the route and then Joe Protheroe did the rest.”
Rancho Cotate was led by back Jason Laque, who rushed for a game-high 123 yards. A 22-yard run by the the Cougar in the third quarter pushed him past 2,000 yards on the season. He's the first in his school's history to accomplish that milestone.
Murphy, Clayton Valley's head coach, also credited his defense. The coach also seemed almost certain his Eagles would get another game next week, probably against Oakdale and maybe at Sacramento State for the Northern California championship. The team could learn as early as Saturday whether they are selected.
The coach told his team as a light rain fell on the artificial turf at DVC’s field after the game, “We played our style of football, and you earned this. … Embrace what you did, and celebrate tonight in the right way.
“Now, let’s all go to Mountain Mike’s for some pizza.”