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February 1, 2023

Cougars control contest from kickoff, defeat Condors on homecoming

It can’t be called a streak until it’s more than one, and the Christopher High football team made sure it’s first loss of the year last week didn’t transition into its second against North Monterey County on Friday night.

A team-oriented effort from start to finish catapulted the Cougars to a 46-8 victory over the Condors in a Monterey Bay League tilt on CHS homecoming night in Gilroy.

“I liked the way our kids maintained themselves, practiced hard all week and refocused on the game that was coming up, instead of thinking about what could have been,” CHS head coach Tim Pierleoni said.

Whatever ill-effects still lingered from a bitter last-seconds 20-18 defeat to first-place Monte Vista Christian last Friday, soon dissolved upon kickoff.

The Cougars (6-1 overall, 3-1 MBL) benefited from favorable field position for a majority of the contest and scored on offense, defense and special teams, racing out to a 20-6 halftime advantage and a 43-8 edge by the end of the third quarter – numbers weighted heavily in the opposite direction compared with last season’s game between the two where NMC led 23-0 at intermission en route to a 44-14 triumph.

“We needed the win. We just came out here and took care of business the way we have been practicing all week,” two-way lineman John Riffle said.  “We knew they were a tough team, I mean, they went toe-to-toe with Monterey. We just came out here played our good offense, our good defense.”

Nic Slater visited the end zone three times in the first 14 minutes of the game, jaunting 15 yards off left tackle to pay dirt on the Cougars’ first possession, then turned Johnny-on-the-spot, scooping a fumble – forced by Riffle – and sprinting 50 yards for the touchdown six minutes into the opening quarter.

The lead ballooned to 20-0 after Slater lowered his shoulders from 1-yard out. A 24-yard swing pass from quarterback Brandon Pickens to Slater set up the short score.

Pickens (15-of-25 for 264 yards and 1 TD) had a relatively quiet evening, but did connect with seven different receivers and caught a pass of his own on the Cougars’ opening play from scrimmage. Marcus Harrell hit Pickens in stride on a halfback-option throwback.

“It was to set the tempo early, to get them on their heels a bit, I think that’s important for us to be able to do,” Pierleoni said of the scripted trick play. “And just to get the kids excited too. With everything that happened last week, our kids needed to be able to play with all their emotions.”

Though the Cougars’ defense held the Condors (4-4 overall, 2-2 MBL) to 221 yards of offense, it was gashed for the longest play from scrimmage this season. The league’s second-leading rusher, Michael Lopez, sprinted virtually untouched 68 yards after making a knee-jerk cutback at the point of attack to bring the Condors within two scores 20-6 with 9:48 to play before halftime. CHS limited the shifty back to just 62 yards on his other 16 touches.

“Nobody’s perfect, and that was a lapse in our very good defense,” Riffle said of Lopez’s run. “After that we just tightened up the cracks and made sure nothing else got through.”

Following the Cougars’ first set of downs of the third quarter, a wayward snap bounced through the end zone resulting in a safety for the Condors (their only points of the second half), making it 20-8. CHS scored on its next three possessions.

Pickens found receiver Bryant Cid over the middle, who subsequently ducked away from three Condors’ defenders to finish off a 60-yard touchdown with 7:48 to play in the third. Slater converted a 25-yard field goal to push matters to 30-8, then shoved his way across the goal line for a 37-8 lead – a 2-yard touchdown made possible by a Pickens-to-Harrell 34-yard completion one play earlier.

Harrell, who sat out much of the second quarter with a lower torso injury, nothing 20 minutes of ice couldn’t fix, made a splash after the Cougars induced another three-and-out, returning a punt 50 yards and a 43-8 lead. Harrell thought about running left, decided right had a better feel to it, broke a tackle on the 30 yard line and scampered tightrope-like the rest of the way.

Steven Chavez added a 25-yard field goal late in the fourth.

“Very, very satisfying. I like the way the kids played,” Pierleoni said. (North Monterey County) is a good football team. We just need to move on now and get to the next one.”

The Cougars hit the road next week to take on Seaside.

NOTES: Total yards – CHS 293, NMC 221… Turnovers CHS 1, NMC 2… Cid finished with 6 catches and 114 yards… Dillon Babb (2), Takoda Bowers, Mikey Pirnik and John Riffle recorded sacks… One week after being flagged 12 times, the Cougars had four penalties. “We got together on Monday, talked about us committing penalties isn’t going to win us games,” Cid said. “So all week long we were talking about keeping our mouths shut, not say anything, and today we only had a couple penalties. It was a great game. We all came together.”


Friday night around the Monterey Bay League


Monte Vista Christian 35, Seadside 7. Records: MVC (7-0 overall, 3-0 MBL), Seaside (2-5, 2-2 MBL)

Monterey 38, Pajaro Valley 6. Records: Monterey (5-2, 2-1) Pajaro (1-5-1, 0-3)

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