Prep football: Running backs to take center stage when Rancho Cotate plays for NCS title

Anyone watching the Rancho Cotate-Las Lomas North Coast Section Division 3 high school football championship game Friday night in Acalanes may see a master class in rushing.

The No. 2 Cougars hope to topple the No. 1 seed, Las Lomas of Walnut Creek, in a 7 p.m. game that pits Oregon State-bound ?running back Isaiah Newell of the Knights vs. Rancho Cotate’s Rasheed Rankin, among the top rushers in the ?Redwood Empire this year.

Las Lomas crushed Santa Rosa 56-0 in the first round of the playoffs, when Newell scored five touchdowns and ran for about 300 yards.

The 6-2, 225-pound senior back - who rushed for 2,166 yards and 32 touchdowns as a junior - committed to Oregon State over 15 other offers, including seven from Pac-12 schools.

He is a three-star recruit and ranked the 46th-best player in California’s 2020 class by

“They have a couple ?nightmares,” Rancho coach Gehrig Hotaling acknowledged. “(Newell) is the total package. Size, speed, vision. It’ll be a difficult challenge.”

Rankin, 6-1, 225, also uses his strength and smarts, but is a different style of rusher.

“Apples and oranges,” Hotaling said. “Their kid is more of a speedster. Rasheed, he’s more of a blue-collar, workhorse-type of kid.

“Rasheed gets overlooked by recruiters sometimes, so this is a good opportunity for him to show what he can do on the big stage.”

Rankin has run for 1,085 yards and 18 touchdowns this year, including a 177-yard, four-TD performance last week in the Cougars’ 40-28 win over Benicia in the NCS D3 semifinal. Newell ran for 113 of his team’s 122 yards and had one touchdown in the Knights’ 37-6 semifinal win over Hayward. His yearly totals weren’t available.

Newell is likely the best running back the Cougars have faced all year.

“But we’ve faced really good ones all year long, so that can’t do us anything but good for us to prepare,” Hotaling said. “It’s about tackling, effort, desire, heart - who makes the tackle. Are we going to rally? The first guy holds him up, the second guy makes the tackle?

“He’s going to make his yardage. We’re not going to stop him, but we can work to contain him.”

The Cougars, 9-3 and ranked 160th in the state, come into the game on a six-game winning streak after starting the season 3-3.

In the seventh game, at Windsor, Hotaling said his team had a wakeup call during halftime, down 14-7 to the Jaguars and with the Cougars’ success hanging in the balance.

“Things weren’t looking good and the season was on the brink of disaster. We were playing like individuals, coaching like individuals ... everyone pointing the finger at each other.

“During that halftime, we realized this was our last time to come together or that was going to be it,” he said.

The Cougars scored 13 points in each of the last two quarters of the game while holding Windsor to only six points in the half to win, 33-20.

“That was the turning point of our season, and since then we haven’t looked back,” Hotaling said.

The top two seeds facing off in the title game could portend a fairly even game.

The Knights, 11-1, lost only to Campolindo, 31-14, in a Diablo-Foothill League game in October. They were down 31-0 early in the fourth quarter. Rancho, too, lost to Campo, 34-14, and the Cougars trailed 27-0 in the fourth quarter. Both beat Vanden.

The Cougars have broken through one barrier already in these section playoffs, a five-year stretch of being knocked out in the semifinals.

Finally in the title game, Rancho hopes to ride on the shoulders of those teams - and on some come-from-behind games this year.

“We’ve won in crazy ways in the fourth quarter. We’re just comfortable in tight games, and that’s probably the most important thing going into this game,” Hotaling said. “We’re never going to panic, never waiver, never falter, always try our best.”

While Rancho might not be the prettiest team, the flashiest team, he conceded, the Cougars work hard and are effective.

“Everyone knows we’re the underdog,” he said. “Not many people are even giving us the chance to compete or even make it close. But I think we’ll show up and prove some people wrong.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or On Twitter @loriacarter.

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