Barnstormers win OT thriller


Advancing to the championship game isn’t anything new for the
Central Coast Barnstormers. But not even the team’s storied history
could diminish Saturday’s improbable upset of the Pacifica
SAN FRANCISCO – Advancing to the championship game isn’t anything new for the Central Coast Barnstormers. But not even the team’s storied history could diminish last Saturday’s improbable upset of the Pacifica Islanders.

“It was an awesome game,” Barnstormers quarterback Bryan Smith said simply.

An understatement, perhaps?

In a Northern California Football League semifinal that provided seven lead changes, not to mention a stomach-punch 43-yard field goal by Pacifica’s Colby Cason with five seconds remaining to knot the game even at 31-all, the Barnstormers provided the final tally when running back Mario Washington burst through the left side in overtime for a six-yard touchdown and a 37-31 victory.

Having previously lost to the previously undefeated Islanders 50-28 back on Week 2, the Barnstormers (11-1) are now winners of 10 straight games and will advance to the NCFL championship on Saturday to face the North Bay Rattlers (11-1).

“The opportunity was there, to beat the Number 1 team in the nation and the Number 1 team in our area, and we just took advantage of it,” Smith said.

“We are fired up.”

The Islanders (11-1) were the defending national champions and ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to Minor League Football News. Central Coast was ranked No. 29, while North Bay sat at the No. 24 spot entering the weekend.

However, those rankings are now subject to change, especially after the Barnstormers’ surprising upset last Saturday at City College of San Francisco, which was sparked by a defensive stop from Barnstormer Ben Nunez in overtime.

“This game was a very good game,” Central Coast head coach Greg Garcia said. “It was back and forth.”

So much so that no lead appeared safe; not Central Coast’s 10-0 lead to open the game, not Pacifica’s 28-25 margin with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.

“We knew what we had to do to get it done,” Garcia said. “Keep our concentration and not let them beat us.”

And when Smith found wide receiver Greg Walton on a five-yard slant route to give the Barnstormers a narrow 31-28 lead at the 1:12 mark, the victory seemed all but assured.

But anchored by Pacifica quarterback Jason Piccolotti, the Islanders marched down the field on their ensuing possession, just enough so that placekicker Cason could deliver a 43-yard strike to send the game into overtime.

“We were kind of deflated at the end,” Smith said.

Playing under college overtime rules, though, where each team is supplied a chance to score starting from the opponents’ 25-yard line, the Islanders showed nothing on their first two plays when Barnstormers free safety Ben Nunez picked off a Piccolotti pass at the 15-yard line.

“We went crazy,” Smith said. “It was great.”

With Danny Bettencourt 3-for-3 on field goal attempts already, all the Barnstormers needed to do was kick a ball through the uprights. Starting from Pacifica’s 25, having pocketed 31 points already, a single score seemed likely.

“Executing plays,” Garcia said when asked what the difference was from Week 2. “And coming together as a team when we needed them.”

“Their focus was really high.”

Smith focused in on Will Lawrence for a 14-yard gain on the second play of overtime, while running back Mario Washington went zone right for five yards before hitting paydirt on the very next play – the dagger that supplied Pacifica its very first loss in two years.

“We played flawless football,” Smith said, “just about as perfect as we could have played.”

The Barnstormers’ next opponent may not be the No. 1 team in the nation, but the North Bay Rattlers do own the No. 1 defense in the NCFL -just 62 points allowed during the 10-game regular season.

And with a balanced attack, Garcia said, the Rattlers had just one loss in the regular season – a 7-0 defeat in Week 3 to the Pacifica Islanders.

Kick-off will be 6 p.m., on Saturday at Corbus Field on the Vallejo High School campus.