Christopher’s magic comeback season continues with a trip to CCS title game

Ethan Crawford celebrates an interception against Live Oak earlier in the season.

Christopher’s 34-7 win over Alisal Saturday meant a little more than just revenge. And perhaps it meant a little bit more than just a berth into the Central Coast Section Division IV championship game.

Two years ago, the Cougars were a 2-8 team. Last year they were a 1-9 squad completely outmatched in the Gabilan Division.

And with the win over Alisal, Christopher has erased all of the pain of the last two seasons by erasing the pain from Oct. 13.

A month and a half ago—still stinging from a loss to Gilroy the week before and seeing the practice routine get disjointed because of smoke from the Sonoma fires—Christopher had to watch the Trojans celebrate on its field following a 28-21 double overtime game.

And from the get-go, the Cougars were not going to allow Alisal another opportunity to celebrate again.

“This whole team came in ready to play football,” said coach Tim Pierleoni. “They did not like losing to these guys before. I think that showed today.”

Ben Sanford threw for 160 yards and a touchdown. Runningback Jon Scarcella ran for 118 yards and a TD.

“He was running huge,” said receiver Jason Scirigione. “It could have been his last game, so he was treating like it was his last game. It was just great running by Jon.”

Ethan Crawford ran for a pair of scores and Jason Scirigione scored the backbreaking touchdown on a 31-yard carry in the fourth quarter.

“What was a little bit different from the last game was we were able to play a little bit better on offense,” Pierleoni said. “We got them down and a team like that that runs option and doesn’t like to throw the ball, once they get down they have to throw the ball and it’s hard for them to make it up. That was the game plan going in.”

Pierleoni said his coaching staff worked so hard to get the boys ready to go and making the adjustments from the last game to take it to the Trojans the second time around.

Then the defense took over, forcing an interception and limiting Alisal to a single touchdown set up by a short field.

Now Christopher sets up a date with destiny against Leland, who is coming off a 52-20 win over Santa Clara to improve to 11-1 overall. The Chargers won a highly competitive Blossom Valley Athletic League-Santa Teresa Division to earn the No. 1 seed in the Division IV playoffs.

Time, date and place for the championship game has yet to be announced.

Christopher had to overcome an early mistake against the Trojans, but once the offense and defense got rolling, there was no stopping the Cougars.

After an opening drive that brought Christopher to the Trojan 20, a controversial fumble ruling gave the ball to Alisal on its own 6.

Peyton Mitchell was tackled after catching a pass from Sanford and brought to the ground. He initially landed on the defender, but as he was twisted to the ground, the ball popped out.

Initially the Christopher sideline didn’t react except to be confident Mitchell would be ruled down until the referee signaled Trojan ball.

But the defense came through, forcing Alisal backward and gave the Cougars a short field following a lackluster punt.

The Cougars needed three plays to cover 27 yards and got into the endzone on a direct snap to Crawford, who punched it in from six yards out.

Crawford’s only other carry of the day came on a direct snap for a four-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“It’s a beautiful change up,” Pierleoni said. “He’s such a good athlete, it’s hard to defend. And it’s especially hard to defend when we don’t have to put in special personnel to run it.”

Pierleoni sung Crawrford’s praises as just being one of those special athletes who not only ran the ball, but would wham block against the defensive tackles to help open up lanes for the other backs.

“He was a huge part of the game plan today, he really was,” Pierleoni said.

Alisal tied the game, however, late in the first quarter after a short punt set up the Trojans deep in Christopher territory.

Seven plays later, Marquez found paydirt with an eight-yard touchdown run. But it was all he and Alisal could muster.

Marquez, who dashed Christopher for more than 100 yards back in October, was limited to just 42 yards on 16 carries. Israel Corona led the team with 70 yards on eight carries.

Alisal forced Christopher into three first half turnovers, but came away with no points from them.

And that cost the Trojans dearly.

Right after tying the game, Corona intercepted Sanford on the first play of the second quarter.

But Alisal couldn’t get much further than midfield, eventually being forced to punt from the Christopher 41.

The Cougars turned the Alisal missed opportunity into a 98-yard, nine-play drive that ended with Scarcella breaking loose for a 23-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

Alisal responded with a 10-play, 51-yard drive that brought the Trojans to the CHS 18. But the drive stalled and a 36-yard field goal attempt went wide.

So a potential 17-7 or 17-14 lead at the break turned into a Christopher 14-7 margin.

Alisal initially had things working with a pitch option play that dashed Christopher on chunk plays that set up the Trojans for the field goal attempt.

But once the Cougars got someone to cover the pitchman rather than having multiple guys go after the quarterback, Alisal’s last gasp to get back into the game was taken away.

“We mane an adjustment and that’s what it’s all about. It’s the adjustments,” Pierleoni said. “We make an adjustment, then they make an adjustment and we were just able to make a few more adjustments than they were at the end.”

And the Cougars smelled blood.

Corona muffed the second half kickoff, which AJ Gomez pounced on.

One play later, Sanford hit Joseph Cupp for a 26-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead just 9 seconds into the second half.

“That was a back breaker. We were able to score right afterwards and we put them in a situation where weren’t able to do what they wanted to do,” Pierleoni said.

Alisal wasn’t the same.

“That was a huge game-changer,” Scirigioni said. “Right when that happened, I knew the game was over.”

The rest of the third quarter, Alisal was forced to punt twice and Marquez got intercepted by Anthony Gomez deep in Cougar territory.

Christopher started to run away with it at the start of the fourth quarter when Tyler Davis converted a key third down play to put the Cougars inside the 10 and two plays later, Crawford had a touchdown.

Christopher put the game on ice on its next series, going 88 yards on eight plays capped with Scirigione breaking loose for a 31-yard touchdown run with 2:17 left to play.

Now the focus has to shift as Leland will easily be one of the toughest teams Christopher has seen either since Live Oak in Week 2 or for the entire season.

“Leland is very good. I went and watched them last night and they are very, very, very good,” Pierleoni said. “They have an outstanding runningback. They have a quarterback who is the biggest kid on the team who runs just as fast as the runningback. They are extremely good. I’m extremely excited to be playing a championship game.”

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