Prep football preview: NBL schedule opens with a bang
Rancho Cotate High School would love to stop playing second best to Cardinal Newman in their league football battles. Friday could be the Cougars’ chance.
In the first game of 2019’s North Bay League-Oak Division schedule, the top two teams face off in what many see as the contest that will determine the league championship.
Newman has owned the NBL since 2014, when the Cardinals and Cougars shared the North Bay League title with identical 6-1 records.
Rancho last won the league title exclusively in 2012, when today’s Cougars seniors were preteens.
To call this a possible league title game, assumes, of course, that neither team loses any of their other four division games in the next month.
“It’s a big test for us,” acknowledged Cougars coach Gehrig Hotaling. “Newman is a tough group. They are probably higher ranked than they’ve ever been playing us at this time of year.”
By the numbers, Newman has the advantage.
Newman is ranked 42nd in the state by MaxPreps.com, compared with Rancho’s 170th.
The north Santa Rosa parochial school is 4-1 this season, its only loss to No. 23 Liberty, 17-13, on Sept. 21.
Rohnert Park’s Rancho lost in the season’s opening week to Sacramento, 24-6, and last week, 34-14, to Campolindo, with three wins sandwiched in between.
The Cardinals have won the pair’s past four meet-ups. Since 2004, Newman has walked away the winner of 13 of 16.
Rancho last won in 2014, their co-championship year, 45-38, in overtime.
That was Newman’s last NBL loss. The Cardinals have lost only nine league contests since 2004.
Hotaling said the Cougars can test Newman, if they play consistently.
“The first game, we beat ourselves by giving away three touchdowns,” he said of the 24-6 loss at Sacramento. “And last week we got beat by a bigger, more physical team.”
His team hasn’t truly found its identity yet, he said.
“We just need to improve ourselves. If we concentrate on that, do what we need to do, we give ourselves a chance,” he said.
Part of that includes wrapping up the play — specifically, tackling.
“We’ve been in good spots at times, but then just not been able to finish it,” he said.
For Newman’s part, coach Paul Cronin is wary of veteran Rancho quarterback Jared Stocker’s leadership.
“Anytime you have a senior quarterback who started the year before, they’re a lot more composed. I’ve been impressed how well he’s managed the team offensively,” Cronin said of Stocker. “He’s running the ball, making plays on scrambles.”
Rancho running back Rasheed Rankin is a major threat, Cronin said.
“We’ve seen a lot of teams in preseason that were predominantly run teams,” he said. “We’ve had some challenges with that.”
Rasheed averages more than 120 yards on the ground and has scored seven of Rancho’s rushing touchdowns.
Newman is more of a high-flying team, with quarterback Jackson Pavitt, averaging 187 yards in the air per game, and receivers Tsion Nunnally (five touchdown catches) and Giancarlo Woods (three).
Pavitt hasn’t thrown an interception all season.
Cronin expects the game to be an exciting one, whoever wins.