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February 1, 2023

FOOTBALL: Cougars heard loud and clear in 63-34 victory over Mustangs in Severance Bowl

Two Severance Bowl’s in the books – two different winners.

The Christopher High football team emphatically punctuated a dominating regular season with a 63-34 triumph over rival Gilroy in a three hour, anything-you-can-do-we-can-do-too slugfest Thursday night, avenging last year’s 40-17 loss to the Mustangs in the inaugural running of the crosstown clash.

“It feels awesome. We came a long way from the start of the season. We talked about setting goals and we completed all of them,” CHS senior safety/receiver Bryant Cid said.

Led by a proud senior class – part of the school’s first – the Cougars celebrated another milestone in their (9-1) meteoric rise as a second-year varsity program, which includes a share of the Monterey Bay League championship with Monte Vista Christian and spot in the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs, by charging over to the Severance Bell moments after the final whistle and ceremonial handshake at midfield. The players spent a chunk of quality time with the town relic, well after the bleachers cleared. The bell will be trucked to the CHS campus where it will be until next year’s meeting – which may in fact be a league game.

“We had three goals we wanted to accomplish before the season ended: First we wanted to make the playoffs, then we wanted to be league champions, then come out and win the Severance Bowl. Those were the first three,” a Gatorade-soaked CHS head coach Tim Pierleoni said, whose Cougars will find out what seed they will draw for the postseason Sunday. “The next goals are, win the first round game, practice Thanksgiving morning and win CCS. The kids have done a fabulous job. They have worked extremely hard.”

Gilroy (4-6), after a three-game winning streak to start Tri-County Athletic League play, suffered its fourth consecutive setback down the stretch and will not make the playoffs.

“I’m proud of this group of kids,” GHS head coach Steven Lo said, who in his first year at the helm, rejuvenated the Mustangs’ program from a 2-8 season in 2010. “The kids played hard the entire time. They didn’t pout, they didn’t throw their helmets around. That’s a testament to the type of kids we have on this team, and a sign of steps forward.”

The Mustangs briefly led 3-0 after turning a CHS fumble on its initial possession into a 16-play, 67-yard drive that stalled at the CHS 5-yard line. As it was, the Mustangs never led again.

“(Christopher) came out after it. They brought it,” Lo said.

The Cougars responded three plays later with a Brandon Pickens-to-Cid 47-yard scoring connection. The point after was blocked and left matters 6-3. Another GHS field goal tied it 6-6, but the Cougars scored three unanswered touchdowns to carry a 27-6 lead into halftime.

The Cougars’ third of the three scores was set up by a Cid interception return that began in the end zone and went 98 yards down the Mustangs’ 2-yard line. Running back Nic Slater, who had five rushing touchdowns behind his offensive line, finished the short drive one play later.

“That’s the team right there,” Cid said of the offensive and defensive line play. “If they don’t have a game, we don’t have a game.”

Cid intercepted GHS quarterback Niko Fortino (26-of-45, 288 yards 4 TDs, 4 INT) four times, including three straight Fortino pass attempts spanning the second and third quarters. Gilroy had five turnovers to Christopher’s one.

“It’s just reading the quarterback’s eyes. He led me to the receivers,” Cid said.

CHS also sacked Fortino six times, including three by defensive end Dillon Babb.

“I dreamed of this all year,” Babb said. “We just executed on the plays.”

Despite the second half beginning with a Cid interception of Fortino on the senior signal caller’s first throw, the Cougars’ three-score cushion never really seemed out of reach for the Mustangs, who continued to battle in spite of the uphill tilt. And following the turnover, GHS pulled within two scores after Fortino dialed up Jordan Headley for a 12-yard touchdown.

However, Marcus Harrell, who also had touchdown grabs of 11 and 58 yards, returned the ensuing kick into Mustangs’ territory. A penalty on the play set up the Cougars on Gilroy’s 8-yard line. Slater steamrolled in on third down for a 27-13 advantage.

As should have been figured, the back and forth continued in alarming fashion.

“(Gilroy) is a good football team. They didn’t give up. I have to hand it to them, every time we scored they scored right back,” Pierleoni said. “We just had a little bit more in the tank at the end.”

Fortino led the Mustangs on an eight-play drive and capped it with a 13-yard touchdown to Christian Goldstein, keeping a workable deficit in order at 34-20.

Harrell, though, again returned the kickoff onto GHS’s side of the 50, and four plays into the Cougars’ offensive sequence, Slater high-kneed in from five yards out for a 41-20 lead. Harrell and Pickens executed a nifty wide-receiver-option throw back for a 29-yard gain earlier in the possession.

On cue, and literally 30 seconds later, Fortino called Brendan Holler’s number for a 33-yard score on an un-timed down with no time left in the third following a CHS penalty.

Kicker Mario Gomez recovered his own onside kick, however the Mustangs missed an opportunity to turn the tide down just 14 with the entire fourth quarter ahead of them. Fortino’s down field effort for Holler was under thrown and Cid was there again to reel it in.

“It seemed like at the end of the year, turnovers became a big issue,” Lo said. “You can’t turn the ball over and expect to win football games. Hats of to them for making us do some of those things. But, I mean, in some respects, we beat ourselves tonight.”

CHS did nothing with that turnover, but exchanged a Jourdan Soares (10 catches, 73 yards) fumble later in the quarter for a Slater 5-yard dash across the goal line and a 48-27 cushion with 8:43 to play.

Harrell (five catches, 117 yards) contributed his 58-yard score to make it 55-27 ahead of a Fortino-to-Holler 23-yard touchdown that brought it to 55-34. Slater added one final trip to pay dirt with an 18-yard scamper as time ticked down to three minutes.

NOTES: Pickens finished the night 12-of-17 for 299 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 45 yards on 12 carries…Slater, who broke the 1,000-yard total for the season, rushed for 120 yards on 23 touches, including the five TDs, and added three catches for 77 yards and another TD…GHS running back Brandon Boyd eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season with a 17-carry, 109-yard effort…Goldstein had seven catches for 66 yards…Holler had three catches for 59… The Cougars outgained the Mustangs 505 to 400…Takoda Bowers, Matt Almeida and Patrick Mank contributed sacks for CHS…Bleachers on both sides were filled from end to end…There were zero interruptions as far as outside distractions during the game. 

Junior Varsity:

The JV GHS and CHS football teams ended their version of the Severance Bowl in a 13-13 tie.

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