About the only thing missing from the celebration Friday night was champagne, a speech by the mayor and the keys to the city. Otherwise it was Times Square on New Year's Eve when the clock strikes midnight. Screams to the sky to no one in particular, people hugging so aggressively someone would fall down, grown men flying into the air bumping shoulders, it felt like more than just a single victory, this heart-thumper that Rancho Cotate won over Cardinal Newman.
It was. And truth to tell, having seen and felt AT&T Park shake after the Giants won their first two World Series games, that was the atmosphere at Cougar Stadium. A mini-version, sure, but no less electric, rowdy and, especially, exuberant. Rancho beat Newman, 21-14, and, truth to tell again, this is probably what happens most of the time in Sonoma County when someone beats Newman in football.
"Yes, it did feel like a playoff game," Cougars coach Ed Conroy said. "These kids have a dream to go beyond this game. And their dream continues."
The road to the playoffs, it seems, always seems to go through Cardinal Newman. The confidence Rancho will get from this game is quantifiable and sustainable. Why? Because since 2003, Rancho has beaten Newman only once before Friday night. Both teams came into the game unbeaten, both in lockstep for quite some time to arrive at this point. This game had been on the football horizon for anyone who had followed the sport in Sonoma County and now there was this collective exhale.
"We felt like this was for the NBL championship," said Rancho Cotate quarterback Michael Courchaine, knowing the Cougars have one league game left, next week at home against Santa Rosa.
It may take a week for Rancho to truly digest and then calm itself for the tension that seemed to almost overwhelm both teams in the fourth quarter. That proverbial line — about things suddenly turning on a dime — appeared to occur every other minute. It was exhausting to watch, if both teams had the time.
The moment that best represents the crucible of frenzied madness in this game came with 1:38 left on the clock. Cardinal Newman was out of timeouts. Rancho had third-and-6 on its own 40. Conventional wisdom would have Rancho — with the 21-14 lead — running the ball, letting the clock run down to mere seconds after a delay of game would be called. Sure, 6 yards was attainable but that was almost beside the point.
At the very least a Rancho punt deep into Newman territory and the Cardinals would have one, maybe two plays to go 80 or more yards.
That would be the conventional wisdom.
Instead Courchaine dropped back to pass. It would be a little pass to a wide receiver coming back to the center of the field.
The snap from center sailed over Courchaine's head.
"Oh, Lord," the quarterback thought to himself.
A victory over Newman was something Courchaine had been thinking about a lot leading up to the game. It would validate Rancho's 8-0 start, providing the sweet impetus needed for a playoff run.