A trio of Central Coast Section champions are just one win away from adding a state title to the trophy case.
Soquel, Palma and Los Gatos high schools are on their way to the CIF State Football Championships following last week’s victories in their respective NorCal Bowl games.
Soquel continued to show its dominance on defense in a 42-14 win over Casa Roble High in the Division 4-AA Championship Bowl Game on Dec. 1.
Senior linebacker Cade Petersen had six total tackles, followed by Ben Palma, Malakai Ross-Graves and Justice Grauel-Tebong with five tackles each. Ross-Graves also recorded one sack.
Adrian Lopez-Kais had one fumble recovery and fellow teammate Django Daillak recorded one interception for Soquel, which won the CCS D-II title with a 28-0 thumping over Christopher High on Nov. 25.
Grauel-Tebong exploded for three touchdowns and 81 yards rushing on just five carries, including a 64-yard sprint to the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Junior running back Tyreis Lundy recorded a game-high 127 yards rushing and one touchdown on 17 carries, and Braylon Noble capped off the scoring with a 44-yard run to the house.
Sophomore quarterback Sam Whelan was nearly perfect on the evening, completing 14-of-15 pass attempts for 184 yards and one touchdown to senior receiver Jordan McCord.
McCord hauled in the 18-yard score that gave the Knights a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
With the win, Soquel (12-2) will travel to Pasadena City College in Southern California to take on Jurupa Hills High (9-6) out of Fontana near San Bernardino. Kick off is slated for Friday at 8pm.
After being on the brink of playoff elimination, Palma (7-7) is playing some of its best football of the season after a 31-21 win against Hughson High in the NorCal D-4A Bowl Game on Dec. 2.
Eli Dukes and Thomas Nunes each scored a pair of touchdowns for the Chieftains, who have won five straight including a victory against Alisal in the CCS D-III finals.
Palma will play Mission Oak High (10-5) in the state final at Pasadena City College on Saturday at 3pm.
Eight days after a virtuoso performance in blasting Wilcox High to win the CCS D-I championship, Los Gatos wasn’t exactly hitting on all cylinders in its NorCal 2-A Championship Bowl Game against El Cerrito High on Dec. 2.
The Wildcats entered halftime trailing 6-0, but it probably should’ve been worse, as they managed a meager 47 yards of total offense compared to the Gauchos’ 147.
Wildcats coach Mark Krail said the coaching staff had a simple message for the players at halftime.
“We said that was probably the worst [half] of football we’ve played in two months, and we were down [only] 6-0,” he said. “I said we’ve got nothing to panic about. We’ve got to clean some things up, let’s go play the way we can, and we still made some mistakes in the second half. But doggone, these guys just continued to fight and got the job done.”
Indeed, Los Gatos’ offense finally started to get in rhythm, the defense was stout and El Cerrito self-imploded with penalties. The Wildcats (12-2) prevailed, 14-6, to advance to their first-ever CIF State Championship appearance.
The ‘Cats will play Central Valley Christian (14-1) of Visalia at Pasadena City College on Saturday for the State 2-A title. Kickoff is slated for 7pm.
Though Krail has plenty of confidence in his team, this year’s postseason run has been nothing short of mesmerizing.
And now, a golden opportunity to earn the program’s first State title.
“I’m in shock a little bit, you know, what are we really doing,” Krail said. “I’m just happy for the guys, that’s the emotion. This run we’ve been on is just incredible as a group, and it’s a great group of kids. And I know every coach says that about their group, but this one is truly that group.”
*Additional reporting by Los Gatan Sports Editor Emanuel Lee