Prep football playoff preview: League rivals Rancho Cotate, Windsor meet in 1st round
With new eight-team brackets this year instead of 16, the CIF North Coast Section high school football playoffs get down to business with competitive matchups in the first round.
“Usually you play against teams that are not very good in the first round,” said Rancho Cotate coach Gehrig Hotaling, whose Cougars will host North Bay League-Oak Division rivals Windsor on Friday night in a Division 3 game.
“Now we’re basically starting off in the quarterfinals. Windsor is the real deal. There’s no time to catch your breath.”
Rancho ended the season 7-3 overall and 4-1 in the Oak, including a 33-20 victory over the Jaguars on Oct. 11 in Windsor. Rancho’s only loss was to undefeated league winner Cardinal Newman.
Windsor, also 7-3 overall, finished 3-2 in the division and placed third behind Newman and Rancho.
That’s not to say the second-seeded Cougars have the seventh-seeded Jaguars’ number.
“I don’t care who you are, it’s very difficult to beat a team twice in one year,” Hotaling said. “Even though this is a 2-7 seed (matchup), it’s going to be a very good game.”
Windsor coach Brad Stibi said his team is eager to face the Cougars again.
“We’re looking forward to an opportunity to get back at Rancho. That’s the way I wanted it,” he said. “I know we didn’t seed where we’d have liked, but at the end of the day, it gives us another opportunity to beat a league opponent.”
Rancho has a long, successful playoff history, qualifying every year since at least 2004, and advancing to the semifinal games each of the last five years. The Cougars won the NCS Division 2 championship in 2010.
Windsor has been rebuilding this year after a 3-7 season in 2018. The Jags advanced to the semifinals in 2017 and lost to Campolindo in the 2016 NCS title game. They won the NCS Division 2 championship in 2011.
A win over Rancho would be a boost, said Stibi, in his second year at the helm in Windsor.
“We’re wanting to build the program and we have to beat Rancho to do that,” he said.
In their only other meeting this year, Windsor jumped out to a 14-7 lead by halftime. But Rancho regrouped and held the Jags scoreless in the third while taking a 20-14 lead.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We finished great,” Hotaling said. “We were playing not to lose ... in the first half. We were trying to get cute instead of putting our foot on the gas pedal.”
Stibi said his team may have gotten a little too satisfied with the first-half lead.
“We need to keep more of a selfish attitude and mindset and be able to finish the game,” he said. “That’s got to be our message: We gotta finish.
“A big game like this, there will be mistakes made. I think it comes down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.”
Both teams have fairly balanced attacks, with Rancho leading in the run game while Windsor gains more in the air.
Cougars running back Rasheed Rankin averages 124 yards a game, while Windsor is led by Lorenzo Leon, who brings an 81-yard average.
Windsor quarterback Billy Boyle is throwing 166 yards a game to Rancho’s Jared Stocker’s 127 a game.