Just 24 hours after crosstown rival Gilroy won the Division V championship, the Cougars secured the Division IV crown on the same field at Westmont High School.
And Christopher (11-2 overall) did it with suffocating defense and a run game that wouldn’t relent.
The water flew into the air and was dumped onto the back of coach Tim Pierleoni, celebrating the completion of a turnaround for Christopher who just the year before suffered through a 1-9 season.
The three playoffs wins that clinched the CCS title, fittingly, were the same number of wins the Cougars amassed the prior two years combined.
“We’ve been talking about this since last January,” Crawford said. “The last two years were hard, going 2-8 and 1-9 and suffering that loss to Gilroy (on Oct. 6) really hurt, so it was just a bitter taste in our mouths we were just trying to get rid of.”
After the game, Pierleoni reminded the team it had been in playoff mode long before the playoffs actually started.
The Cougars dropped back-to-back league games and found themselves needing to win out to help secure the playoff berth.
“It just shows some resiliency from the kids and some really, really hard work. I think in a way losing those two games catapulted us into this,” Pierleoni said. “When we lost against Alisal, I told the kids when we came back that Monday, we were in the playoffs. It was time. We’re going to start right now and if we lose we’re out. And they took that to mind and started working extremely hard.”
Davis had 109 of his 163 yards rushing in the second half to help put the game away, including scoring the backbreaker in the third quarter on a nine-yard run.
“I love them. I can’t make plays without them,” Davis said of his offensive line.
“He is an extremely tough young man,” Pierleoni added of his runningback. “He’s shown it every time he steps on the football field. Not only on the offensive side, but the defensive side as well.”
Meanwhile, the Christopher passing attack led by first-year starter Ben Sanford helped to open up the run game with 140 yards on 15 of 24 passing with a touchdown.
From there, the defense took over.
The Cougars held Leland (11-2 overall) to 184 yards of total offense, 65 of which came on one play.
The Chargers’ leading rusher Kyle Anderson, who averaged 162.7 yards per game was limited to 52 yards on 22 carries.
Quarterback Carson Yates threw for just 34 yards on 9 of 16 passing with three interceptions.
Christopher was relentless getting into the backfield, coming away with three sacks—two by defensive tackle Joe Fleming—and three tackles for loss.
The only blemish for Christopher came at the start of the third quarter when Yates took the ball 65 yards on the second play of the half for a touchdown to cut what had been a 10-0 halftime lead down to a three-point game.
The Cougars needed just 2 minutes to respond, driving 68 yards on seven plays, aided by a key offsides penalty and capped with a seven-yard Sanford pass to Payton Mitchell.
Christopher was lining up to kick a field goal on fourth and four from the Charger 14 when the penalty was called allowing a fresh set of downs. Two plays later, Christopher scored.
After a three and out, Christopher got the ball back at midfield and turned to Davis to take it home.
Davis carried the ball five of six plays to cover the 50 yards capped with him going for a nine-yard touchdown and what proved to be the final 24-7 margin.
Leland’s next drive ended with Christian Davis intercepting Yates and the Chargers couldn’t recover.
Leland finally got the ball moving in the fourth quarter however, but ironically, it finally ended the Chargers’ chances to get back into the game.
The Chargers went on a methodical 15-play drive that covered 53 yards, but it bled critical clock. Eventually Leland turned the ball over on downs when Jon Scarcella batted a ball in the endzone down.
Leland had bled the clock down to below 3 minutes and the writing was on the wall.
The Chargers did get the ball back one more time, but Crawford came up with his second interception of the night and Christopher took knees to end the game.
“It was nice to know that we secured it and it was over,” Crawford said. “All we had to do was take a couple of knees for a championship.”
In the first half, the defense on both sides proved to be stout as the game was scoreless through one quarter despite the Cougars driving the ball to the Leland 12.
Christopher settled for a field goal, but the kick went short and wide left.
But the Cougars finally got on the board seconds into the second quarter, capping a 45-yard drive with a Davis one-yard TD run at the 11:57 mark.
Christopher then went up 10-0 when a Crawford interception led to an Alex Andrade 26-yard field goal.
Christopher nearly blew the game open right there when the ensuing kickoff was mishandled by the Chargers, allowing Davis to fall on a loose ball that no one from Leland chased down.
But the Chargers’ defense held as Garrett Swanson intercepted Sandford at the goal line, bringing it back to the Leland 21.
Leland, however, couldn’t capitalize. The offense was limited to just four first downs in the first half and nine for the game. Four of those first downs came in the fourth quarter when the Chargers went on the clock-grinding drive.
Pierleoni said it came down to preparation in the week prior that culminated in his coaching staff knowing what Leland was going to do before the Chargers even lined up.
“It was a lot of hard work by all my coaching staff. It was a lot of hard work by the kids. It was a lot of preparation. We sat down and we schemed all week long,” Pierleoni said. “That’s a very good football team over there and they’ve done an outstanding job. It took an above the level effort against them.”
A bittersweet night
In addressing the team, Pierleoni got choked up telling the boys he had dedicated the game to his late wife Jennifer.
Afterward, Pierleoni said the community of Gilroy, his neighbors, friends and family were essential to him being back on the field and sharing in the win with his team.
“Without my family and my friends and the community and the school, I don’t think I could have done what I have been able to do over the last two years,” Pierleoni said. “It’s been an effort for everybody. The school, my kids, my family, my neighbors have all helped. The community has helped quite a bit and that’s what got me through.
“I know she’s up there watching and I know she’s proud. It really, really makes me feel good inside.”