It wasn’t even close.
The Christopher High football team outclassed Leland in every phase of the game in a 36-11 win in a Central Coast Section Division III playoff semifinal on Friday in San Jose. The No. 4 seed Cougars (7-5) advance to the championship contest and will play the winner of today’s Sacred Heart Cathedral-Mountain View game next Friday or Saturday at a place and time to be determined.
This marks the second time the Cougars have reached a CCS title game, four years after they won the Division IV championship, 24-7 over Leland.
“Christopher High was in this spot four years ago and won the title with coach P (Tim Pierleoni), and we’d like to win a second one with this bunch,” CHS coach Darren Yafai said. “I’m proud of the guys. I told them to be happy, be proud, celebrate and enjoy the moment. But we’re not done yet.”
Not done yet. That will be the motto for the Cougars in practice leading up to the title game. Whoever the Cougars play, their situation will be the same: they’ll be up against a much bigger team. Top-seed Leland’s linemen on average probably outweighed their CHS counterparts by 20 to 30 pounds per man.
However, just as the Cougars have done for a large portion of the season, they’ve found a way to prevail. Led by spectacular performances from Luis Ramos on defense and Spencer Gorgulho at quarterback, CHS left no doubt as to which was the superior team. Ramos wreaked havoc at defensive end, finishing with three tackles for losses and several quarterback hurries.
Leland entered the contest averaging nearly 300 yards rushing per game. But the CHS defense stopped the Chargers cold, limiting them to a season low of 137 yards of total offense, including a paltry 13 yards on the ground. Ramos and his defensive linemates including Kingsley Okoronwko, Vincenzo Mesa, Osvaldo Jimenez Yanez and Dallas Smiley were dominant in the first half, which helped CHS go into the break with a commanding 27-3 lead.
“Speed was key for us on defense,” Ramos said. “A lot of them are bigger but with technique and execution, we get the job done.”
Speaking of getting things done, the CHS secondary for the second straight playoff game produced four interceptions, two each from Jermaine Thomas and Amari Bluford, a sophomore who was brought up from the junior varsity team just a month ago. Bluford’s second interception came in the end zone after Thomas batted the ball up in the air as he was jousting with a Leland receiver.
It was a critical play as Leland had just scored to cut its deficit to 29-11, then held the CHS offense to a three and out. The Chargers got the ball back on the CHS 33-yard line and a TD would’ve given them hope for a comeback. Bluford’s performance comes a week after a fellow JV call up, William Rizqallah, had two picks, including one that prevented a TD. Talk about unheralded players stepping up big time.
“They got a little momentum, but we’re able to get that interception and stop the tide,” said Yafai, who praised his coaching staff for their hard work and preparing the kids for each game. “We have tough, gutsy players, but our coaching staff embodies that, too. Great men.”
Gorgulho had a huge game, completing 20-of-32 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He and Jaterius Lee had one of the best QB-receiver stat lines of the playoffs, connecting six times for 181 yards. And, get this: the duo did it in just one half as Lee didn’t play in the third or fourth quarter after hurting his lower back on a 34-yard TD catch with 1 minute, 56 seconds left until halftime.
In addition to that big gain, Gorgulho hooked up with Lee for plays of 64 and 52 yards, each time delivering devastating blows to a Leland team that no doubt was stunned with the blowout nature of the outcome. Running deep routes down the sideline and over the middle, Lee made a highlight-reel catch on his 52-yard play, twisting in mid-air before coming down with the ball.
Gorgulho also had some serious chemistry with Cody Ahola, who is an outlier on the CHS team as he is built like a future Division I player. Playing in his fifth game since returning from an injury suffered just before the start of the Covid spring season, Ahola had seven catches for 100 yards, including a 13-yard TD. CHS also used him in the Wildcat formation, where he would take a direct snap and run over center or guard for key gains.
He had TD runs of 5 and 2 yards and every time the team needed a short gain to pick up a first down on a third-down play, he delivered behind another solid performance from the offensive line. All season long, CHS has overcome the odds to bring about a special season. First, it was producing its best season ever in the A league. Now, it’s advancing in the postseason.
“We’re motivated and we’re going to bring it next week,” Ramos said. “Coach Yafai is the glue and brings us together and gets us motivated, just like all of our coaching staff.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.