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Marin Catholic shuts down Rancho Cotate in NCS semifinals

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The Rancho Cotate High School playoff run came to an end as the Cougars football team narrowly lost, 7-2, to Marin Catholic High School in a North Coast Section semifinal game Friday night in Rohnert Park.

After losing in the semifinal round of the North Coast Section playoffs four years running, the Cougars were looking to finally break through — but came up short once again.

Rancho Cotate (11-1) entered the game rolling, the most dominate team in the Division 2 bracket. After beating Casa Grande, 55-7, in the first round, the Cougars followed up with a 42-7 drubbing of American Canyon in the quarterfinal round.

Marin Catholic (10-3) reached the semifinals after defeating Granada 14-7.

Rancho featured a balanced offense led by quarterback Jared Stocker and the leading North Bay League-Oak Division running back, Rasheed Rankin. But due to an injury to Stocker, quarterback Ryan Hoxsie took over most of the passing duties against Marin Catholic.

“I’m just proud of them; we had a great year, we battled. We had some costly mistakes today that was the 5-point difference in the game,” Rancho head coach Gehrig Hotaling said. “Turnovers, a bad snap, tons of penalties on offense and our second-string quarterback played the whole time … he was put in bad spots the whole night and we couldn’t battle through it.”

Both offenses came into the game looking unsteady, but the defenses for each team played tough.

Marin Catholic gained some early momentum after a big defensive stop on Rancho’s first drive as the Wildcats forced a turnover on downs after holding the Cougars on fourth and inches.

The Wildcats didn’t take advantage there, but they came up big on the next offensive series for the Cougars by forcing a punt.

Rancho punter Andrew Alfaro mishandled the snap on the punt and recovered it deep in the Cougars’ territory, giving the Wildcats’ offense the ball on the 7-yard line.

Marin Catholic quarterback Gaven Cooke wasted no time, and ran in the touchdown for an early 7-0 lead.

The Wildcats put together a couple decent drives later in the half, but Rancho’s defense was also playing well and held Marin Catholic to only those 7 points in the first half.

It was stunning to see the Cougars’ offense — which seemingly had no trouble scoring over the past six games — struggle the way it did. The Wildcats’ defense bottled up the powerful Rankin and Rancho hardly attempted any downfield throws until the end of the game.

Still trailing 7-0 in the second half, the Cougars were looking for a spark on offense and began running the wildcat formation, directly snapping the ball to either Rankin or fellow running back Sumari Jones.

“(The wildcat) has been good for us all year. I wish I could’ve stayed in it more, but the clock became an issue,” Hotaling said.

The few times Rancho was able to do anything positive on offense were usually followed by a negative. Jones had a 33-yard run on first down from the Cougars’ 3-yard line, but it was followed by Marin Catholic’s Cooke intercepting a pass and running it back to Rancho’s 13-yard line.

However, the Cougars’ defense did not give, forcing a turnover on downs with the offense taking over at its own 6-yard line with less than 10 minutes left in the game.

The Cougars continued to run direct snaps to their running backs — primarily Jones, who picked up a couple of big gains to drive Rancho down the field late in the game.

A pass interference penalty committed by Marin Catholic put the Cougars in the Wildcats’ territory with less than three minutes left, but on the next play, Matt Jacobson intercepted the Rancho pass and the Marin Catholic offense took over on the 3-yard line.

Rancho’s defense did not relent.

After being shut down on three rushing attempts, Marin Catholic elected to take the safety and ran the ball out the back of the end zone.

With less than a minute and a half remaining, with no timeouts and down by five, the Cougars took over on their own 43-yard line. But on the first play, the defender Cooke snagged his second interception to seal the Wildcats’ victory.