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November 27, 2021

Success in ‘A’ league has Christopher High football team prepared for CCS playoffs

The Christopher High football team survived a gauntlet of a schedule playing in the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division.

Now, the Cougars are banking on the fact that playing the likes of Salinas, San Benito, Aptos and Palma—four perennial powerhouse programs—have prepared them to make a legitimate Central Coast Section playoff title run. 

Christopher (5-5) earned the No. 4 seed and plays host to No. 5 Palo Alto (5-5) in a Division III opener on Friday at 7pm. Cougars coach Darren Yafai said having the bye in the final week of the regular-season was a blessing in disguise because it allowed them to heal up after a bruising league slate. 

“We’re feeling much better now because the guys were really banged up the last three to four weeks of the season,” he said. “Each game we went into, we were usually down two, three, even four starters. Our league is like a murderer’s row—that’s how big our league is. The physicality, we got beat up at times even when we were competing and winning games. Playing those big boys took a toll on us.”

Make no mistake: while the Cougars won’t be at full strength come Friday, they’ll be in better shape compared to the aftermath of a 42-7 loss to Palma on Oct. 28. 

“By the end of that game, I think we were down five starters,” Yafai said. “It’ll be nice to get some of our guys back. Whether they’re at full strength or 80 percent, we won’t know until game time. But it’s nice to at least have some of them back in practice this week.”

One of those players is Luis Ramos, who Yafai describes as the “heart and soul of both lines.” The senior standout is the team’s only linemen who starts both ways as an offensive guard and defensive end. Ramos is returning after suffering an injury in practice two days before the Palma game. 

“We’re hoping he’ll be healthy enough to play,” Yafai said. “Losing him was devastating. He’s a pretty good guard but an exceptional defensive end because he’s so disruptive.”

With Ramos leading the way on the defensive line, linebackers like Payton Wheeler, Rossi Oteri, Kingsley Okoronkwo and Eric Argumnedo had room to fly to the ball and make tackles. Jaterius Lee led a ball-hawking secondary with Nick Pham, Mikey Cambria, Damiann Gomez and J.T. Thomas also provided sound coverage and big hits at times. 

Mason Pena has been key at the rover position, a hybrid strong safety/outside linebacker role. Yafai said the key matchup is whether Christopher’s defense—which has allowed just 16 points per game and posted four shutouts—can stand tall once again. While the defense has been downright stout in the team’s five victories, it was porous against Aptos, Palma and Salinas. 

However, those three teams seem to be a cut above Palo Alto this season, which should give CHS confidence entering the game. Palo Alto has had an up and down season in the Santa Clara Valley’s De Anza Division, characterized by lopsided wins and blowout losses. 

“This Palo Alto team, I don’t put them up there with the Big Four in our league, but they’re a bigger team than us and they would be a playoff team out of the PCAL if they were in it,” Yafai said. “Their size poses some difficulties, but other than the Palma and Aptos game, we’ve played great defense. Palo Alto is strong, but I think our guys can get back to playing the tough defense we did earlier in the year.” 

Christopher’s offense—while not explosive—has been efficient at times but will most likely need a big play or two to help the team advance out of the opening round. 

“I hope we can have some explosive plays,” Yafai said. 

Quarterback Spencer Gorgulho had his most prolific game against league champion Salinas on Oct. 15. He completed 27-of-45 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions. Lee, who has been a big-play threat at receiver, had six receptions for 109 yards and Pena had four catches for 108 yards. 

The Cougars have been buoyed by the return of Cody Ahola, who returned from a major leg injury suffered in March. Ahola plays receiver and defensive end and has been doing well with limited reps as he’s still getting in full game shape. 

Christopher has entered virtually every game this season at a size disadvantage. However, it’s a huge testament to the Cougars that they’ve competed well in one of the top leagues in the section. 

“Literally all 10 teams we’ve faced this year are bigger than us, especially across the offensive and defensive line,” Yafai said. “But we’ve been able to overcome some of that with speed, toughness and good tackling.”

Emanuel Lee
Sports Editor of the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. PR of 3:13.40 at the 2019 CIM. Hebrews 12:1.

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