NCS Open/Division I playoffs: California enjoys home-field advantage, rallies from 14-point deficit to win two weeks after CVC celebrated at midfield
California quarterback Jayden Macedo was calm and collected before leading the game-winning drive in the Grizzlies’ 31-24 victory over Clayton Valley Charter in the first round of the North Coast Section Open/Division I playoffs.
It didn’t hurt that Cal High, seeded fifth, was starting the drive in front of its home fans. Clayton Valley Charter, the higher-seeded team, was on the road as a punishment for how the team’s 33-24 victory at California ended on Oct. 27.
After the game, the Ugly Eagles celebrated excessively on the field, which resulted in eight CVC players being suspended for last week’s 48-0 loss at De La Salle. For the rematch, all eight players returned.
“We were not going to let that happen again,” said Macedo.
“Everyone took it personally,” Cal tight end Chase McGill said after catching five passes for 126 yards and one touchdown. “We had a hard week of practice, and we came out fighting.”
Macedo led a surgical eight-play, two-minute drive, with big throws to Chase McGill (22 yards) and Nick Fox (34 yards) getting the ball down to the nine-yard line.
With 1:29 remaining, Macedo rolled right, cut the ball back into the middle of the field, and stretched across the goal line for the winning score.
And, just for good measure, California’s all-around quarterback caught the two-point conversion against a familiar East Bay Athletic League opponent.
“He played well tonight, and he had to,” said Cal High coach Danny Calcagno. “He did it with both his arms and legs.” “I’m very proud of him.”
Cal’s defense held on the next drive, and the San Ramon school advanced to a semifinal matchup with Pittsburg, the same team that defeated Cal 38-35 two months ago, on Friday.
“We wanted that rematch,” Macedo said after throwing for 303 yards, rushing for 32, and scoring three times. “We told them we would see them in the playoffs, and now it’s time.”
While the game was intense and physical, the handshake line went by without incident after Cal snapped a four-game losing streak to the Ugly Eagles.
“Hats off to Cal High, and they’re a hell of a football team,” said CVC coach Nick Tisa. “We all shook hands after the game, so I think that whole thing is over.”
Sayyidi Abdul-Kareem led all players with 98 yards rushing, and Cal’s wideout tandem of Fox and Josh Calcagno combined for 168 yards receiving. Clayton Valley gained 112 yards on the ground, and tight end Tony Keck caught seven passes for 138 yards and one touchdown.
Starting in place of the injured Devan Love, Abdul-Kareem ran for a 31-yard touchdown late in the third quarter to tie the game at 17-17. Cal capitalized on its next opportunity after defensive lineman Ethan Cullen and his line teammates forced CVC to go three-and-out on the next drive.
With 11:01 left to play, Josh Calcagno found a soft spot in the zone on the right sideline and took Macedo’s perfect pass 75 yards for a touchdown and a 23-17 Cal lead.
“Our philosophy is just to keep playing the game,” Cal coach Calcagno explained. “Don’t be concerned about the numbers. Simply do what you’re told and make plays.”
The CVC offense woke up with its season on the line after being sluggish for the last quarter.
With six minutes left, Justin Underwood, who also had a key 16-yard run on fourth down during the drive, gave the Ugly Eagles a 24-23 lead with a four-yard rumble into the end zone.
Clayton Valley tipped a field goal attempt to end California’s next drive.
When given the chance to seal the game, the Ugly Eagles went three-and-out, giving Macedo enough time to win.
It was an unlikely outcome just minutes into the second quarter.
Things picked up quickly after a slow start in which the teams exchanged two short field goals. Within a minute, Dion Lew Beverly returned a kickoff for a touchdown, Kameel Colvin intercepted a pass, and Keck broke free for a 57-yard touchdown reception, giving CVC a 17-3 lead.
Those shots weren’t enough to knock out California, as the Grizzlies responded with a seven-play, 70-yard drive highlighted by Macedo’s 39-yard touchdown pass to McGill. Back-to-back sacks on CVC’s next drive sent the teams to halftime with the visitors leading 17-10, setting up an intense second half that ended with California defeating the team that finished its season last year in the NCS Open/Division I playoffs.
After the game, the quarterback was thinking about retaliation, but his coach just considered himself fortunate to be able to game plan for another Friday night after surviving the heart-stopping victory.
“I don’t even know who we’re playing next,” Calcagno admitted. I’m just glad we’ll be playing next week.”