After spending most of the season striving, sometimes painfully, to achieve success, Casa Grande High School’s football Gauchos achieved their goal in the drizzle at Santa Rosa High School on Saturday night.
Casa’s 38-36 victory over Santa Rosa didn’t earn for the Gauchos a winning record. They finished the regular season with a 3-6 mark. What the Gauchos’ third straight victory did do was not only gain for them a spot in the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs, but a home game as well.
Casa Grande will play its first NCS game at home against Montgomery on Friday night at 7 p.m. It is a significant accomplishment considering they started Denis Brunk’s first season as head coach with six consecutive losses, and had to win their final three games to ensure a spot in the playoffs.
The invitation was clinched by the win at Santa Rosa, a victory accomplished in typical Gaucho fashion with a come-from-behind, heart-pounding victory in the final quarter.
After a bruising through a pretty much even scrap through three quarters, Casa entered the decisive final round trailing, 28-22, and already two plays into a determined 65-yard march that would prove decisive.
Casa Grande used the same tactics that have proven so effective during the three-game drive to the playoffs, deploying the two-pronged rushing attack of running backs Kenneth Fitzgerald and Jack Leonetti and the deft ball handling of quarterback Jadon Bosarge to bulldoze through the Santa Rosa defense. Leonetti finished with 123 yards rushing, while Fitzgerald busted through the Panther front wall for 156 yards and four touchdowns.
On the long fourth-period drive, Bosarge hit a key third-down pass to Isaiah Cappelen.
The unsung heroes of not only the drive, but of Casa’s 305 rushing and 358 total yards, was the front line. Matthew Hart, Matthew Murphy, Justin Naugle, Daniel Chavez and Braeden Chadwick not only surged forward the entire game, but really stepped up when yardage was most needed.
And it was desperately needed when the Gauchos faced a yard for a first down on a fourth-down play at the Santa Rosa 16. The Panthers stacked every available body on the line of scrimmage. The Gauchos didn’t get a great line surge, but they got just enough for Fitzgerald to muscle forward, gaining the first down by a matter of inches.
Two plays later, Fitzgerald was in the end zone standing and the game was tied at 28-28.
Casa Grande surprised the Panthers by passing for the 2-point conversion. Cole Shimek grabbed Bosarge’s pass just before it touched turf and Casa led, 30-28, just 6 minutes from the finish.
Casa Grande managed to get the ball back when Alan Masio jumped on the head of spectacular Santa Rosa quarterback Blake Thomas on a fourth down play to give the Gauchos ownership at the Panther 26. Sparked by a key run by Bosarge on a quarterback draw play followed by a penalty and another fourth-down conversion, the Gauchos moved to the 12, and Fitzgerald went in from there to seemingly put the game out of reach, 38-28.
But the irrepressible Thomas and his Santa Rosa teammates had a last hurrah left in them. The junior quarterback, who ran for 210 yards and four touchdowns, broke a 34-yard run and then scored from the 8. He then ran in a 2-point conversion to cut the Casa lead to 38-36, but time finally caught up to the Panthers, and all that remained was for Bosarge to kneel on the wet Santa Rosa turf and the Gauchos to celebrate.