Concord 24, Rancho Cotate 14
The Stars: Workhorse running back Olito Thompson carried the ball 41 times for 272 yards and two game-breaking touchdown runs of 44 and 67 yards. Thompson’s performance in the playoffs has been simply extraordinary. In three contests, he has 1,099 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Turning Point: Concord went into the locker room at halftime trailing 14-8, but they had yet to hit their stride. Rancho’s offense had found success running the quarterback option and Concord had a hard time - with all of the misdirection - finding the ball carrier. In the second half, Concord’s defense made the proper adjustments to play more disciplined against the option and shut down the Cougars’ offense. Thompson tallied another tackle breaking, late third quarter touchdown, to put Concord up 16-14 and the defense finished off Rancho.
The Quote: “My heart is pounding at a hundred miles per hour right now. To know that we are going back to the championship, without all of those great players from last year like Ricky (Lloyd) and all of the others. It is just a great feeling.” –Concord Senior Captain Terrence Young, who recorded the game clinching pick six.
What's Next? No. 7 seeded Concord advances to the NCS finals to play No. 1-seeded Windsor at Santa Rosa High School on Friday at 7 p.m.
Concord High coach Brian Hamilton needed a second to collect himself and brush away his tears before addressing his team at the post-game huddle. His emotions were running wild following his teams’ 24-14 NCS semifinal victory over Rancho Cotate.
Those who witnessed Hamilton’s NCS championship postgame interview last season know that tears can only mean one thing, the Minutemen are in the win column again.
For the second consecutive year, Concord came from behind by six points to bounce Rohnert Park’s No. 3 seeded Rancho Cotate from the playoffs, on the road Saturday night.
This time, the Minutemen who relied so heavily on the pass last season, pounded the Cougars for 293 yards and two rushing scores.
Concord’s superstar junior, Olito Thompson, led the charge with 272 yards and two long touchdown runs. He even toughed his way through a sprained ankle, which he suffered on the teams’ first drive of the second half.
“He is very good,” said Hamilton. “He had some big runs at some very timely moments. (Ranco Cotate) was very tough. That is the most times we have handed to him the ball this year. He just kept persevering. He turned his ankle and came back. There is a reason he is the number one guy in the state. He is special.”
Thompson’s highlight reel seems to grow with almost every playoff carry. In his first touchdown run he broke three tackles in the middle of the line before breaking free into the secondary. He was met by three Cougar defenders, who all appeared to have an angle to bring him down, but he sharply cut back across the field finding an open seem into the end zone.
His patience, vision and speed, combined with excellent offensive line play, has made the Minutemen’s ground game unstoppable.
However, in the first half, Rancho appeared to have Concord reeling after scoring two touchdowns and forcing the Minutemen to turn the ball over on downs after driving inside of the Cougars’ 10-yard line.
The first of Rancho Cotate’s touchdowns came after they received the ball on the Concord 18-yard line following a short Minutemen punt from their own end zone. The Cougar’s Ricky Garcia had his pass tipped at the line of scrimmage but tight end Bryce Johnson never took his eyes off the ball, making a beautiful diving catch for the score.
The second score came off of an 8-play, 58-yard drive, highlighted by impressive ball fakes from Garcia in the option game and capped off by an 11-yard touchdown run by Vaimaa Taito.
Taito gave the Minutemen fits all game, rushing 15 times for 128 yards.
“Nothing was different from a year ago. We were down six last year (in the NCS championship),” said Hamilton. “I told the kids at halftime that we know these guys. We know how they run, how they hit. We did not play our best ball in the first half, but if we come out and play our best ball we will be OK.”
Concord answered Hamilton’s call to pick up their game at the half and exited the dressing room with a renewed focus.
The Minutemen’s defense was the catalyst. They struggled with the Cougars’ option and misdirection run game in the first half but in the second, they wreaked havoc in oppositions’ backfield.
“It is just all guts,” said Hamilton. “Both teams played their tails off. They made a mistake and we capitalized on it. It really came down to one turnover. It was two evenly matched teams.”
Concord had three second-half sacks by Uaisele Manoa, Kennan Mahler and Trent Mahler. The secondary picked off two Rancho passes and Terrence Young’s fourth quarter pick-six, with seven minutes remaining, essentially iced the victory.
“The defense was unreal,” exclaimed Hamilton, who's defense shut out the Cougars in the second half. “We had enough adjustments to keep them off balance. We tackled them to the ground and put their quarterback under tremendous heat.”
Young, who studied Rancho’s passing game all week, read the wheel route perfectly, stepping in front of the Cougar receiver and doing the rest with his feet on a 44-yard return to the end zone.
The senior, who returned to the Minutemen as their top receiver from last year, has taken a back seat in the offenses game plan, due to the team’s commitment to its elite power running attack. But he still knows exactly what to do when he gets his hands on the ball.
“I almost dropped it, I got so nervous,” said Young. “But I managed to pull it in and run it back to the house.”
The Minutemen will have the daunting task of preparing for No. 1 seeded Windsor, who are currently undefeated at 13-0 and are coming fresh off a 35-0 drubbing of Dublin High in the semifinal.
Concord 24, Rancho Cotate 14
Concord 0 8 8 8 — 24
Rancho Cotate 7 7 0 0 — 14
Records: Concord 10-3. Rancho Cotate 9-4.