The Christopher High football team didn’t gain any style points in its 20-0 victory against Alisal High on Oct. 21, but then again, artistic value wasn’t necessary.
“We were looking at this as kind of a playoff game,” Cougars coach Darren Yafai said. “We had three straight shutout wins and were riding high. Then we got beat up by Aptos and hung in with Salinas but couldn’t get it done. Our JV coach told me their game had been an ugly win at 20-7. I told him I would settle for a 20-7 ugly win right now. Ugly or not, I’ll take it against these guys.”
Christopher’s defense was key as it had a goal-line stand to preserve the shutout while scoring two of the game’s three touchdowns from Nick Pham and Luis Ramos. There were also significant contributions from wide receiver Cody Ahola, returning to play his second game after missing the Covid spring season and the first half of this season due to a major injury in a February scrimmage.
Pham accounted for the first touchdown of the game when he returned an interception 49 yards to the end zone in the first quarter.
“We lined up and they were in a bunch set,” Pham said. “With the defense, our whole motto has been ‘bend but don’t fold,’ and we did exactly that. The receiver was super close, we were in a cover-three defense, and the quarterback dropped back. It looked like a pass and I made my move—and I guessed correctly.”
The Cougars’ bend-but-don’t-break philosophy was on point. Alisal advanced all the way to the CHS 12-yard line at the end of the first quarter, only to see it come away empty on a missed field goal attempt. One of the Cougars’ ensuing drives ended on an interception.
“Our pass game was just alright,” quarterback Spencer Gorgulho said. “We had trouble at first getting it around until we found the groove. We were kind of slow and sluggish—it was just the mood we were in today and it kind of threw us off.”
After a couple of series in which neither team moved the ball with any authority, CHS lineman Luis Ramos returned a fumble 50 yards for a TD, another electrifying play for the defense.
“During that play, I was not expecting to recover it like that,” Ramos said. “Thanks to my buddy, Cody Ahola, he stripped the ball and it landed right in my arms. That is what it is all about—I took the opportunity and I ran like a bat out of hell.”
The Cougars recovered the ensuing kickoff after an Alisal fumble, but they failed to take advantage of the Trojans’ miscue.
“It was weird,” Yafai said. “Our defense would bend, bend, bend, then get a turnover. We’d get the ball, we’d get a good kickoff return, some positive plays, and some penalties. Defensively, we had some opportunistic turnovers and fourth-down stops, but then on offense, we were kicking ourselves and got a bunch of penalties.”
Alisal threatened to score on a long drive in the third quarter only to see Rossi Oteri and Mikey Cambria make key tackles to force a turnover on downs.
“We ask a lot of our backers and put them into a bunch of different positions defensively,” Yafai said. “We know we are playing against a big offensive line with big fullbacks who rotate and we are down two starting defensive linemen coming in. So the one area we need to be at full strength, we weren’t—but they stepped up.”
Ahola had a 49-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring, a sublime moment for him and the team.
“My opponent lined up to me and was pressing me—essentially, he was disrespecting me,” Ahola said. “I went to the coach and I said, ‘Let me get this, I got it, coach.’ He trusted me, I executed, my quarterback executed, and it was all good. I have not scored a touchdown like that since my injuries took me out for two seasons. It felt awesome.”
It was also the moment that let Yafai breathe a little easier.
“This Alisal team has stomped on some guys,” he said. “They took it to Sobrato, they took it to Monte Vista Christian—they are an A-league team that has battled out there. So in the second half, it just felt like we were hanging on and hanging on until that long bomb touchdown pass to Cody. That sealed the game.”
Jaterius Lee also had an interception late in the game to continue his spectacular season. While this wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, the Cougars earned the most important thing—a victory—taking with it learning points in the process.
“Everything could have gone better,” Lee said. “Our defense could have come up with better stops. I think our O-line needed to do better protecting the quarterback so he has time to get the ball out. The quarterback-receiver connection needs to have a better relationship so we can get the ball together. But we are going to get some work in this week and be ready to come against Palma and show them what we are about. We are going to stay focused and bring the intensity.”