AMERICAN CANYON — Relying on its big play capability, an effective ground game and the last 20 points Friday, host American Canyon pushed past El Dorado 42-26 in CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff action.
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As the No. 16 seed, someone forgot to tell the Cougars to panic, freeze and roll over. El Dorado’s behavior was anything but as the Cougars turned two turnovers into touchdowns, twice held leads and forced the bracket’s No. 1 seed, despite over 500 yards rushing, into a mistake-filled performance.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the kids or happier for our community,” El Dorado coach Joe Volek said. “We thought ‘hey we’re 16 (seed), they’re 1 but we’re here so let’s play football whistle to whistle’ and that’s what we did.
“We gave up a patch of big plays. They’re (American Canyon) a talented, well-coached squad but I thought our kids really punched back,” Volek added.
Friday’s difference was the Cougars’ surrender of the big play as the Wolves scored from 76, 80, 51, 49 and 29-yard distances. El Dorado found success making American Canyon work on offense and from there force turnovers.
One occurred early as the Wolves were poised to go up by two touchdowns. At the goal line, Cougar Jeremiah Romero came out of the pile with the ball and raced 99 yards the other way — igniting the El Dorado faithful.
“I knew what they were going to run, reached my arms up, yanked down, spun around, heard no whistle and took off,” Romero said. ” The defense came out strong tonight.”
Romero’s fumble recovered stopped the Wolves on another possession and Brandon Ollar’s interception thwarted yet another. Trailing 14-6, Nick Bonniksen (24-0f-38, 262 yards) directed an 81-yard drive capped by his 13-yard scoring pass to Zach Culp as the visitors pulled within two.
“I thought our offense hit them good. It was pretty even both ways — they got some then we did,” Bonniksen said. “We played hard all the way and the O-Line (Dominic Morgan, Juan Vargas, Shane Caraway, Gage Raley, Austin Danker, tight end Sam Osterhout) blocked well.”
Bonniksen’s 13-yard hookup with Brad Schmidt and Tyler Clanin’s 32-yard gain highlighted another series. Clanin followed his block in from the 4, as the Cougars went ahead only to lose the lead a play later on Michael Rapacon’s 80-yard quarterback keeper.
Feeling good down just 22-19 at the break, the emotion soured as the Cougars fumbled three plays into the second half. American Canyon returned the favor with LeBaron falling on the loose ball.
Though the possession ended in a blocked field goal, momentum quickly shifted when Donovan Mayer forced a fumble in the Wolf backfield, Daniel Rivera lit up a player trying to get the ball and Culp made the scoop for the 45-yard fumble recovery return.
“That was the D-Line (Mayer, Morgan, Lebaron, Caraway) and the linebacker making the strip … I just finished it,” Culp said. “For a 16 seed against No. 1 we played a hell of a game.”
El Dorado stopped American Canyon on its next series and had the ball at the Wolves’ 42 but had to punt. As the Cougars’ offense sputtered, American Canyon tallied 20 straight points.
One last drive put El Dorado inside the 5 after Bonniksen found Wolfgang Shepherd for 14 on third and goal but Wolves’ pressure forced an incomplete and the Cougars never got the ball back.
El Dorado finishes with a 6-5 record.
“The seniors set the foundation and now the juniors have to continue,” Volek said. “We’re not a one-and-done program.”
Clanin rushed for 98 yards. Culp caught 10 passes for 88 yards; Shepherd had four catches for 40; Osterhout four for 28; Schmidt three catches for 28; and Clanin three grabs for 20. For the Wolves, Jomon Dotson rushed for 231 yards.