Christopher High earned the lowest seed in the Central Coast Section Division II playoff bracket and was going up against Mitty High—one of the most powerful and prestigious West Catholic Athletic League teams in the section.
That essentially meant there was little to no chance the No. 8 Cougars could ever take down the top seed Monarchs on their own turf, under the lights at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills on a Friday night.
Christopher decided to rewrite the script by pulling off a thrilling comeback for the ages to rally past Mitty in the final six minutes for an epic 32-28 victory in the D-II quarterfinals Nov. 10.
“We showed everyone we belong here [in Division II],” Christopher coach Darren Yafai said. “To beat a great team is special, especially when they are the number one seed.”
Christopher advanced to the semifinals and will play at No. 5 Menlo School (10-1), which had a 30-28 victory over No. 4 Live Oak High.
Last week’s playoff win for Christopher will go down in the history books as one of the school’s all-time best.
Mitty pulled ahead 28-19 with 5:58 remaining in the second quarter.
Then came the incredible rally that shocked the Mitty faithful and thrilled the large crowd of Christopher supporters who made the trip north.
It all started when Amari Bluford returned the subsequent kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. Then the defense made a big stop, allowing Jaxen Robinson to lead the Cougars on an 82-yard scoring drive for the lead.
The Cougars (10-1) were paced by Robinson, who completed 14-of-24 pass attempts for 220 yards and two touchdowns, one to Evan Vernon and one to Terrence Barnes.
Fellow teammate William Rizqallah finished with 31 yards on 10 carries and a pair of TDs, including the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.
Christopher’s defense sealed the game after it halted a last-ditch Mitty drive to secure the victory. The Monarchs (5-6) were led by AJ Cenizal with 115 yards on 14 rushes.
The Cougars’ comeback began with a deep kickoff that was hauled in by the dangerous Bluford. He was nearly pulled down as he neared midfield, but he left defenders in the dust by inches. The Christopher senior then cut back toward the middle to make it a foot race. No one could catch him.
“I give credit to my blockers,” Bluford said. “They blocked perfectly. Will (William Rizqallah) made a key block. I felt them (Mitty) on my backside so I veered right. I used my speed. It felt amazing to score.”
Christopher still trailed, 28-26, but it was most certainly back in the game.
“That was key,” Yafai said. “They go up nine and we came right back. I kept telling them that we keep fighting no matter the score.”
With time of the essence, Christopher’s defense stepped up bigtime.
Mitty was looking to run out the game clock with their powerful rushing game. On 3rd-and-one, Vernon and Josiah Garcia put an end to that, stuffing Lazaro Faraj-Washington for a one-yard loss.
Christopher’s last-chance drive did not start off in a promising fashion.
After an initial Cougars first down, Mitty’s Talon Salehieh sacked Robinson for a 10-yard loss, followed by an incomplete pass that left them in a daunting 4th down and 20 scenario.
That’s when Robinson and Bluford connected on the play of the game.
“I knew my guy could make the play,” Robinson said. “I had to give him a shot. Me and him have been working together since my freshman year. It’s amazing. We beat a West Catholic team. It’s great, especially for the seniors.”
Bluford outfought a defender to get to the ball and his catch resulted in a 42-yard completion to the Mitty 40-yard line.
The script was flipped and Christopher was rolling. Robinson immediately found Barnes for a 9-yard pass, then sneaked for the first down, with the clock ticking under one minute.
“I told my coaches we needed to punch it in,” Yafai said. “We can’t settle for a field goal.”
A field goal would have put Christopher ahead but also leave Mitty the chance to reply with a game-winning field goal.
Instead, the touchdown provided at least a four-point margin and forced the Monarchs into having to score a touchdown. A very wise approach by Yafai.
Rizqallah came through. The strong senior running back powered over the left end for five yards to Mitty’s 10-yard line, then ran to paydirt on the next play for the score.
After an unsuccessful two-point conversion, the scoreboard read 32-28 with just 42.7 seconds remaining. Mitty tried their best to reply.
“We had our guys cover over the top,” Christopher cornerback Tyler Green said. “We didn’t want to get beat deep. We have some big dudes rushing, like Devin Rios, Danny Camilleri, Tim de la Torre, Aaron Davis-Beckford and others. It feels amazing. It’s different once you play the big schools. They don’t think we can play with them.”
The defensive strategy was working but the Monarchs still had a shot, advancing to the Cougars’ 29-yard line with 15.5 seconds remaining in the game.
At that point, Christopher’s defense made a huge stand, one of the best in school history.
They rushed just three linemen and used the remaining eight to cover the field. Mitty quarterback Joey Campagna could not find anyone open and was forced out of the pocket into an 8-yard scramble.
On the final play, the Cougars again pressured Campagna. He rolled right and, with limited options as the clock expired, threw deep toward the 5-yard line.
“We gave them only the short routes,” Green said. “The last play broke down due to our rushers. Evan Vernon was there to knock it down.”
The pass attempt was incomplete and Christopher walked away victorious.
The Christopher faithful roared as the team bench erupted onto the field in celebration. Soon there was a Gatorade bath for coach Yafai. Fans and players rejoiced and took pictures.
The disheartened Monarchs walked slowly away in shock.
“We’re a gutsy team,” Yafai said. “People said we could shock the world but we told our kids we believe we can win. We played for a CCS championship two years ago and last year we won league. We’re 10-1 and our journey is not over. We will enjoy this but we are not done.”
Christopher will play at Menlo School in Atherton on Saturday at 1pm.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Christopher High football coach Darren Yafai stated the program won a Central Coast Section championship two years ago, which is incorrect. Christopher played for a chance to win a section title.