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February 2, 2023

Christopher returns to triumph on the gridiron

For the first time since the 2018 season, the Christopher High football team was able to walk off the field having scored more points than its opponents. The Cougars, who went 0-9 in the 2019 season, started the much anticipated and delayed 2020 season with a resounding 55-6 win over visiting Branham on Friday. In one game, Christopher showed there would be no repeat of a winless season. 

Cougars running back Logan Stelling, who rushed for a career-high 270 yards on 12 carries—that’s 22.5 yards per rush—attributed the team’s improvement to greater focus and dedication in practice and the weight room. 

“The intensity is different from last year to this year,” he said. “We didn’t want to mess around again. We’re conditioning hard, getting stuff right and doing what we have to do, which we didn’t do much of last year. And that is why we were 0-9. The focus has been on playing hard, playing fast and getting the ball down the field.”

Cougars coach Tim Pierleoni praised his coaching staff and players for their preparation and execution of the game plan. It also didn’t hurt that CHS had superior speed, athleticism and dominated the line play on both sides of the ball. Rossi Oteri, Elliot Carbajal, Isaac Negra, David Poso and Mateo Pulido opened up massive holes for Stelling, who had touchdown runs of 35, 65, 73 and 59 yards. Time and again, Stelling burst through a lane and left Branham defenders in his wake. On the rare occasions when there was no hole, Stelling never went down on first contact, bullrushing his way forward and taking multiple defenders with him. 

“The O-line came out and did a great job, and I think I had more rushing yards this game than I did all of last year to be honest,” Stelling said. “It just felt good. I’ve never had that feeling on the field in my life before.”

Last season, the Cougars started six sophomores and a freshman, highlighting their youth. They also played in the ultra-competitive Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division, and with the exception of the Seaside game, eight of their nine opponents were ‘A’ league teams. Even though Branham might be down this season, the way in which CHS was able to manhandle the visitors was impressive. 

“The kids are really hungry, a little older and they played as hard as they could,” Pierleoni said. “They’ve done a great job scouting, a great job in the film room and a great job in Zoom meetings. And more than anything else, they’re excited to play.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, CHS was playing for the first time in nearly 17 months. The Cougars won despite having one of their best players, Cody Ahola, out with a leg injury. The offense racked up 464 yards and the defense limited Branham to negative-13 yards rushing. Senior defensive lineman Miguel Rangel set the tone on the game’s first possession. On the third play of the game, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior forced the Branham quarterback into an incompletion. 

Three plays later, he was in the backfield yet again and forced another errant throw. On the very next play, Rangel came up with a sack, forcing the Bruins to punt. 

“I don’t even think Miguel realizes how special of a player he is,” Pierleoni said. “He had a real good offseason and you could see in practice how much he improved. He has really good body mechanics and does a really good job of using his body to beat his man.”

After the Branham punt, CHS went 71 yards on six plays, capped by Stelling’s 35-yard TD run around left end with 4:56 left in the first quarter. A pivotal moment came later in the quarter when a Branham player was headed toward the end zone only to be run down by the Cougars’ Jaterius Lee, who came from behind to make a TD-saving tackle. The Bruins ended up turning the ball over, and CHS went down the field for another score. 

“Jaterius was a freshman starting at cornerback for us last year and is the fastest kid on the team,” Pierleoni said. “That’s why he’s out there, because things like that happen. He’s able to run guys down and is a very good football player. It was a 14-point swing right there and a lot of it had to do with his hustle.”

Defensively, the Cougars were unyielding, with Braden Clark anchoring the line, Payton Wheeler manning things at linebacker and defensive backs Adam Andrade and Mason Pena combining for three interceptions, including Andrade’s pick in the end zone to thwart a Branham TD with 3:39 left in the opening quarter. CHS applied relentless pressure throughout, repeatedly forcing the Branham QB to throw before his receivers were able to complete their routes.

Meanwhile, the CHS offense clicked from the get-go. James Goodrich and Spencer Gorgulho both shined at quarterback, combining to go a perfect 6-of-6 for 71 yards with TD passes of 4, 27 and 16 yards. Andrade, Cole Sabala and Jermaine Thomas all had TD receptions as the Cougars went into halftime with a commanding 48-6 lead, leading to a running clock in the second half. 

For players like Stelling, the memories of an 0-9 season motivated him and his teammates in workouts to continually improve. 

“Miguel and I worked out all off-season,” he said. “We put in the work and now the results are coming.”

CHS doesn’t have another scheduled game until a home-and-home set with Gilroy on April 2 and 9. However, the Cougars are trying to schedule at least one more game before the season end date of April 17, Pierleoni said.

Emanuel Lee
Emanuel Lee is the sports editor of the Los Gatan, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. An American High and University of Kentucky alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Gavilan College, various youth sports in south Santa Clara/San Benito counties and pro sports on occasion. Two decades of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. With the Weeklys/NewSVMedia group since 2013. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40 (7:24 mile pace), counts himself as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza. Coaches, athletic directors and parents are encouraged to report scores to [email protected]

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