Empire football previews: Rancho Cotate looks to keep rolling

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No. 1 Rancho Cotate will try to keep its dream season alive Friday at 7 p.m. as the Cougars host No. 10 American Canyon in a North Coast Section Division 2 quarterfinal playoff game.

The speedy and athletic Wolves present challenges that Rancho Cotate has not seen all season.

“American Canyon runs the triple-option offense and we haven’t seen that in a couple of years,” Rancho Cotate coach Gehrig Hotaling said. “It’s do or die; our backs are up against the wall.”

Fortunately for Rancho Cotate (10-1), the Cougars have some advantages on their side — size, depth, a healthy roster and a balanced offense.

“We are one of the most balanced teams between running and passing in the whole Bay Area, statistically,” Hotaling said. “Health has played a large part of our success. Our team couldn’t be much healthier, given this point in the football season.”

The Cougars’ size advantage will be a big factor if they win.

“We are a lot bigger then American Canyon (6-5) and hopefully we can lean on them a little bit,” Hotaling said. “We’ve got to shut down their run game in the middle of the field.”

Wolves fullback Eddie Byrdsong keyed American Canyon’s 43-29 win over Montgomery last week in a first-round game.

“We’ve got to try and contain Byrdsong; the guy is unbelievable,” Hotaling said. “He rushed for nearly 400 yards versus Montgomery and had 45 rushes.”

Rancho Cotate’s hybrid spread/run-option offense is keyed by quarterback Jared Stocker and running back Rasheed Rankin.

The Cougars won in 55-7 in a cakewalk over Casa Grande last week, allowing them to rest their starters early.

“Our starters haven’t played a full game since Week 4,” Hotaling said. “Last week our starters got a lot of rest; we are very healthy right now.”

In other games:

Division 2

(6) UKIAH Wildcats (8-3) vs. (3) CAMPOLINDO Cougars (9-2)

Time: 7 p.m. Saturday

Place: Campolindo High School, Moraga

The underdog Wildcats will need to play nearly mistake-free football to upset the powerhouse Cougars on the road. ... “Campolindo is a good program,” Ukiah coach Johnathan Dewey said. “We are going to have to play a great game to beat them.” ... Ukiah relies on its offensive line to win games and will be tested against the Cougars’ defensive front. ... Ukiah defeated Maria Carrillo 34-19 last week while Campolindo knocked off Redwood 35-6.

Division 5

(5) MIDDLETOWN Mustangs (8-3) vs. (4) FORT BRAGG Timberwolves (7-4)

Time: 7 p.m. Saturday

Place: Fort Bragg High School

Fort Bragg defeated Middletown 18-14 in a North Central League I matchup on Oct. 19. ... “I expect a low-scoring defensive battle with Fort Bragg like it has been with them the last few years we have played them,” Middletown coach Bill Foltmer said. ... Middletown defeated St. Vincent de Paul 48-0 last week while Fort Bragg beat California School for the Deaf, 49-8.

(7) ST. HELENA Saints (7-4) vs. (2) SALESIAN Pride (6-4)

Time: 1 p.m. Saturday

Place: Salesian College Prep, Richmond

St. Helena, also in the NCL I, beat Hoopa Valley 48-22 in the first round last week while Salesian had a bye...The Saints have a three-game winning streak and have outscored opponents 328-316 this season. ... Salesian, of the Tri-County Rock League, has outscored opponents 358-321.


(4) TOMALES Braves (5-4) vs. (1) BRANSON Bulls (7-1)

Time: 1 p.m. Saturday

Place: Branson High School, Ross

Both teams are in the North Central League III South. ... Host Branson defeated Tomales 62-28 on Sept. 29. ... Branson finished in second place in league play and outscored opponents 281-206. ... Tomales finished in a tie for third place and outscored opponents 384-240.

(3) RINCON VALLEY CHRISTIAN Eagles (6-4) vs. (2) SOUTH FORK Cubs (7-3)

Time: 7 p.m. Friday

Place: South Fork High School, Miranda

RVC is in the NCL III South and tied for third place. ... The Eagles have outscored their opponents 307-225. ... The Cubs are in the NCL III North and won the league with a 3-0 record. ... South Fork has outscored its opponents 421-250.

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