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The Rancho Cotate High School football team put on another dominating performance on Friday night, this time in a 55-7 first-round playoff win over Casa Grande High School on the Cougars’ home turf in Rohnert Park.

Rancho Cotate (10-1 overall, 4-1 NBL-Oak) entered the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs on a four-game win streak, storming into the playoffs by outscoring opponents 214-14 during that stretch.

“We firmly believe that now what we do in practice transfers to the games, so we practice really hard. We thought we were practicing well a long time ago, and we weren’t, and once we really picked it up a notch it’s shown on the field,” Rancho head coach Gehrig Hotaling said. “That’s our mindset, that’s our belief and that’s what we’ll do moving forward.”

The Gauchos (4-7 overall, 4-2 Vine Valley Athletic League), on the other hand, struggled early on this season, losing all of their nonleague games and going 0-4 to start the season.

But when it truly counted Casa turned its season around, going 4-2 in league — including a close 37-36 win over rival Petaluma High School in the Egg Bowl last Saturday.

Cougars quarterback Jared Stocker has averaged over 200 passing yards a game and thrown for 20 touchdowns this season. And Rancho running back Rasheed Rankin has been nearly unstoppable, averaging 108 yards per game.

Despite the Gauchos’ late-season turnaround, Rancho’s prolific offense and its lockdown defense proved too much to overcome Friday.

Stocker opened the game strong, driving down the field with two quick scores. The first was on a direct snap to running back Sumari Jones and the second was a 1-yard touchdown run by Rankin to give Rancho an early 14-0 lead.

“(Stocker) is just a technician at that position. He has full comprehension of the offense,” Hotaling said.

“He’s young, so it took him a while to get in a rhythm, but he’s in full rhythm right now and we’re at our best when we can balance running the ball and passing the ball, and he runs the offense well.”

The Gauchos answered with their first successful drive late in the first quarter, which was capped off by quarterback Jadon Bosarge’s 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Nate Busse, cutting the Cougars’ lead to 14-7.

But Stocker and Rancho’s offense just kept rolling, and drove methodically down the field on the next two series, with a good balance of passes and runs to find the end zone each time. The Cougars scored on a 2-yard run by Rankin and an 18-yard pass to wide receiver Jack Reese.

Rancho did not let up. With less than a minute left in the first half, Stocker found receivers for a couple of big gains, then threw a 3-yard touchdown to Ryan Hupp to give the Cougars a 34-7 halftime lead.

The Gauchos showed a little life driving down the field to open the second half, but right when Casa was about to enter enemy territory, Rancho linebacker Fautua Tuaua intercepted Bosarge’s pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.

Midway through the third quarter, Stocker drove down the field one last time and hit Hupp on a 16-yard touchdown pass to put the game out of reach at 48-7.

With less than five minutes left in the third quarter, Rancho inserted its second-string players, who scored the final points on a 17-yard rushing touchdown from Bryce Potter for the 55-7 victory.

With the win, the Cougars advance to a home showdown next Friday against the winner of today’s playoff matchup between American Canyon High School and a talented Montgomery High School squad. Those teams meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at Santa Rosa High School.

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