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It seemed somewhat appropriate to see the Los Gatos defense on the field for the final play against Wilcox in the semifinals of the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs last Friday night at Helm Field.
After all, it was because of the sensational performance of the defense that the Wildcats were still on the field at all.
Los Gatos and Wilcox had battled to a 14-14 tie through the regulation four quarters, and the Wildcats were up 21-20 in overtime with the Chargers attempting a two-point conversion for the win.
Nico Aimonetti and Bailey McNally had other ideas, though.
The two defensive lineman met Wilcox quarterback Kenny Dipko a yard shy of the goal line, and the stop set in motion an immediate celebration by the Wildcats–they were headed to the CCS finals for the second straight year and for the 10th time in the last 13 seasons.
"We get to play another game," said Los Gatos head coach Butch Cattolico moments after the thrilling win. But it’s not just another game–it’s another CCS championship game.
Los Gatos, the No. 2 seed in the CCS Division II playoffs, will take its 8-4 season record up against No. 1 St. Francis (7-5) on Dec. 1, 7 p.m., at Westmont High School. The Lancers are coming off of a lopsided 41-7 win over Aragon.
Los Gatos and St. Francis are certainly no strangers to one another. The Wildcats and Lancers met eight times in non-league games from 2003 through 2010. With the exception of
a 3-3 tie in 2007, St. Francis won every one of them.
The Wildcats, though, have had better success against the Lancers in the CCS playoffs. The clubs have met five times with each team winning twice and the teams playing to a 21-21 tie in the 2002 title game.
They first met in the 1984 CCS semifinals when the Lancers won 20-12 on a tiebreaker. A year later, Los Gatos won its first ever section football championship with a thrilling 14-12 win over St. Francis.
The Lancers whipped Los Gatos 34-7 in the 1994 CCS D-I title game, but the Cats returned the favor, blasting the Lancers 35-7 to win the 2001 D-III crown.
While St. Francis is coming off of an offensive explosion against the Dons, the Wildcats enter Saturday’s championship game after what was arguably their finest defensive effort of the year.
The Chargers finished Friday night’s game with 260 yards of total offense, but most of that came on two touchdown passes that totaled 113 yards.
"Our defense played really, really well," said Cattolico. "That was an excellent football game by our defense."
And never were they better than on four of the last five plays of the night, even if the Chargers did score a touchdown on the overtime series (that saw each team get four plays to score from the opponent’s 10-yard line).
Joey Wood had given the Wildcats a lead when he broke the first play in overtime 10 yards for a touchdown. Logan Chapman followed with what proved a very important extra point kick.
Brent McCoy, who led the Wildcats with 11 tackles in the win, came up with three big plays in overtime. He teamed with McNally to drop 220-pound Wilcox back Sione Finefeuiaki for a 2-yard loss on first down and teamed with Ty Doughty to stop Delshawn Mitchell at the 7-yard line a play later.
It was the next play, though, that may have turned the game. Dipko tried a keeper to the left but McCoy met him at the 2 with a bone-jarring hit. Mitchell scored on the next play, but when it came time for the two-point conversion attempt, Dipko chose to go right instead back at McCoy over on the left side–and he ran right into Aimonetti and Bailey who made the game-saving tackle.
It was a fitting end to what had been a hard-hitting and hard-fought game all night.
"It was the kind of game we expected when you play a team a second time," said Cattolico, whose Cats defeated Wilcox 35-21 in a league game back on Oct. 5. "These teams know each other very well."
That was evident from the beginning. Both teams like to run, but neither was having success on the ground in the early going. The Chargers then surprised the Cats, though, when Dipko tossed a 35-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Mitchell.
The Wildcats must have decided if it was good enough for Wilcox, it was good enough for them. Junior quarterback Nick Bawden led the Cats on a 12-play, 62-yard scoring drive that featured five Bawden pass completions.
"Our quarterback had a helluva game," said Cattolico of Bawden, who connected on 13 of 26 passes for 190 yards.
Los Gatos took over at its own 38 following a Wilcox punt with just 42 seconds left in the first quarter. Bawden tossed to Chapman for 17 yards, then scrambled for seven more on the next play to take the Cats to the Wilcox 38 to start the second period.
Matt Etterman ran twice for six yards out of the wildcat formation, then Bawden went to Kyle Kevorkian for seven more and a first down at the 25.
Following a holding call, Bawden found Chapman for 16 yards, but a sack on the next play left the Cats facing a third and nine at the 24. Bawden and Chapman hooked up on another 16-yarder for a first down at the 8-yard line.
A couple of penalties and a Wood run for no gain left the Wildcats at the 18, but once more Bawden and Chapman connected–this time for 17 yards to the 1.
After Wood was stopped for no gain, Bawden dove the final yard on a fourth-down quarterback sneak. Chapman’s kick gave Gatos a 7-6 lead with 6:00 left in the half.
That’s how it would remain until midway through the third quarter when Dipko went on top to Mitchell for 78 yards and a score. Mitchell ran in for two, and Wilcox was up 14-7 with 5:10 left in the third.
The clubs traded the football on turnovers before Gatos drove to the Wilcox 29 before turning the ball over on downs.
Teva Brender came up with a big hit for a 5-yard loss to force the Chargers to punt and the Cats took over at their own 45 with 9:36 left to play.
Wood made a sensational catch of a Bawden pass for 19 yards, and Kevorkian pulled in a 20-yard pass to the Wilcox 15. After a sure TD toss bounced off the hands of a Gatos receiver, Bawden hit Kevorkian for 10 and a first down at the 4-yard line. After three plays and a penalty, the Cats face a fourth and goal at the 8. Bawden scrambled but was stopped at the 3, and it looked like Los Gatos might be through as the Chargers took over with 4:02 left to play.
It even looked worse when the Cats jumped offside to give the Chargers a first down with just over three minutes left. But McNally and Aimonetti came up with a big tackle, and Brender recovered a fumble on the next play to give Gatos one last chance.
The Wildcats took advantage of the opportunity. Bawden threw to Kevorkian and the senior receiver cradled the ball between his hands and knees to be sure to make the catch. The 16-yard play took the Cats to the 3, and after hitting the line for two yards, Wood went over the right side for the final yard and the touchdown. Chapman added the all-important extra point that would ultimately send the game into overtime.
Wilcox got off a long 39-yard run by Mitchell, but a 47-yard field goal try was well short and the teams were headed to OT.
Bawden finished the night hitting Chapman four times for 66 yards, Kevorkian four times for 52, Wood four times for 51 and Brender once for 20.
Wood had 28 tough carries for 61 yards to lead the ground attack. Max Herman supported with 21 yards on five tries and Etterman carried four times for 11.
The Cats finished with 273 yards of total offense behind an offensive front of tackles Aimonetti and Alex Randolph, guards Kevin Tjon and Brendan Williams, center Dave Fishman and tight end Brender.
McCoy led the defense with his 11 tackles and McNally got in on 10–two for losses. Tyler Perkins finished with nine stops and Jack Tittle had seven tackles, one for a loss and one that forced a fumble. Ty Doughty had six tackles and a fumble recovery and Herman, Ricky Turnwall, Aimonetti and Brender added five stops each.
William Le was in on four tackles and Kevorkian, Tjon, Cody Marshall, Cameron Ackerman, Connor McKeen and Justin Hoijer were also in on stops. Kevorkian had a fumble recovery and a couple of deflected passes to his credit and Tjon also recovered a fumble.
"Our defense hit hard," said Cattolico. "This was a fun game to win."
Article written by Dick Sparrer for the Los Gatos Weekly News