Finishing strong: Los Gatos dominates second half to win program’s first NorCal championship

CIF NorCal 2-A football championship: Los Gatos rallies past El Cerrito

LOS GATOS, CA — The Los Gatos football team won the first Northern California championship in the program’s history Saturday, defeating El Cerrito 14-6.

On Saturday, the Wildcats will face Central Valley Christian of Visalia, which defeated Simi Valley 55-38, for the CIF 2-A state championship at Pasadena City College.

“I’m in shock a little bit, you know, like what are we really doing?” Los Gatos head coach Mark Krail stated. “I’m just happy for the guys, that’s all.” This streak we’ve been on has been incredible. That’s a fantastic group of kids. I know every coach says that about their team, but this one truly is.”

The victory did not come easily. El Cerrito received the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards for a touchdown, which came on a 14-yard pass from Michael Van Hook to Kamani Jackson. Micah Avery carried five times for 32 yards on the drive, while Guardian Harper carried three times for 18 yards.

Los Gatos went three and out, and El Cerrito started another possession with 270-pound lineman Tome Vuekiso lined up at blocking back. However, a penalty pushed the Gauchos back, and this would be a recurring theme throughout the game. El Cerrito was penalized 15 times for 116 yards in total.

In the first half, El Cerrito outgained Los Gatos 172-12 on the ground but led only 6-0. And the visitors’ slim margin on the scoreboard would come back to haunt them, because the second half was a completely different story.

“I told them there was nothing to panic about, clean some things up and go play like we can,” Krail told reporters. “You’re going to have games like this, struggling against the wall.” How do you react? I’ll take my guys whenever they want.”

Los Gatos finally got on the board on its second possession of the third quarter, going 52 yards in nine plays and scoring on an 11-yard touchdown pass from AJ Minyard to Jaylen Thomas in the left corner of the end zone, Thomas’ 13th receiving touchdown of the season. With 1:55 remaining in the third quarter, Sam Pearman’s PAT gave the Wildcats a 7-6 lead.

Los Gatos continued to use Thomas in a variety of roles. In addition to receiving and defending, he returned kicks, served as the team’s punter, carried twice, and even threw three passes, one of which was completed for 24 yards out of punt formation.

“He’s such a good athlete we want the ball in his hands,” Krail went on to say.

“You can’t ask for a better adrenaline rush to do everything, always be in the action and never come off the field,” he said.

Following an El Cerrito punt. Los Gatos went on to score again, this time on an 11-yard run by Boxer Kopcsak-Yeung.

El Cerrito was desperate, gaining 13 yards on three plays. However, three 20-yard penalties forced them to punt on fourth-and-seven from their own 13.

The Gauchos regained possession with 1:39 remaining and no timeouts. Van Hook gained 27 yards on three short passes and two runs before three incomplete passes set up a fourth-down pass that Nate Goldsbury intercepted. The Los Gatos celebration officially began.

El Cerrito gained only 26 yards rushing in the second half, but outgained Los Gatos in total offense 267-183. Avery had 102 yards rushing on 18 carries for the game.

“A lot of penalties kept us behind the sticks and made it hard to run,” El Cerrito coach Jacob Rincon explained. “They did a great job but we hurt ourselves.”

El Cerrito finished 12-2 and has gone 25-3 in the last two seasons, losing in the NorCal regional finals both times.

“This team did an outstanding job,” Rincon said. “Many people doubted us and didn’t think we’d be here. I’m so proud of myself for making it this far. We just have to keep working, get better, and get past this regional game to make it to state.”

Los Gatos (12-2) will play an unprecedented 15th game of the season.

“It’s historical,” said Thomas. “To be the first Los Gatos team to go to state, it’s unbelievable.”

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