Miramonte Defeats Top-Ranked Casa Grande to Earn NCS Title

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G. Bizieff

The Matadors pose after beating Casa Grande 41-28 in the NCS Division II championship game.

Kaitlin Fenn, Staff Writer

Miramonte came away with yet another upset victory in their playoff run on Saturday, Dec. 7, at Rancho Cotate High School; this time a 41-28 win over the first seed, Casa Grande, in the NCS Division II final game to bring home Miramonte’s first NCS championship since 2003. Although the Mats won’t get the chance to advance and play in the NorCal regional bracket, they ended their Cinderella season with a bang, a 12-2 overall record, and 70th place in the MaxPreps California state rankings – four spots ahead of Campo.

On Saturday night, over 165 Miramonte fans bused to Rancho Cotate to cheer on their Matadors in what turned out to be, hands down, the most exciting game of the season.

“Before the game I was a little more nervous than usual, but I just wanted to go out and play as hard as I could hand have fun,” quarterback Drew Anderson ‘14 said. “I knew it might be the last high school game I ever played so that was definitely in the back of my mind.”

While the Mats only rushed for 47 yards during the game, Anderson stepped up, as he has all season long, and threw for 438 yards and five touchdowns, including a 22 yard pass to Dominic Paoletti ‘14 with the seconds ticking away in the fourth quarter to crush top-ranked Casa’s hopes of an NCS title and tarnish their previously undefeated season.

“I actually really liked being the underdog,” Anderson said. “I think it represents our team as a whole. We aren’t a huge team in size or numbers and people doubted us all along, but that only pushed us to work even harder and gave us all a chip on our shoulder.”

Despite their lack of size, Miramonte showed Casa early on that they had come ready to fight when they scored first off of a 41-yard pass from Anderson to Will Fuller ‘14. But Casa came right back and put points on the board to end the first quarter tied at seven.

In the second quarter, the Mats took the lead again after Ray Clark ‘14 pounded the ball in for the score. He then jumped on defense and came up with a clutch play as time was running down in the first half and Casa was on Miramonte’s 10-yard line posed to score. Clark intercepted JaJuan Lawson’s ‘14 pass to keep the Gauchos out of the endzone and secure a 14-7 halftime lead.

But coming out of the half, Casa controlled the game, scoring twice and shutting down Miramonte’s offense.

“At the end of the third when Casa Grande took the lead all I could think about was continuing to FIGHT for the entire game…48 minutes,” Kris Booze ‘14 said.

However, when Anderson hit Paoletti for another touchdown pass early in the fourth, it sparked a 27-point quarter for Miramonte that silenced the Casa crowd and propelled the Matadors to victory. After the score, their defense executed some key stops as they had been doing all game, and held off the Gauchos to get the ball back.

“Our defensive effort was pretty good considering Casa Grande’s offense scores 40-plus points a game,” Booze said. “The defense had to step up, and we did.”

On the next drive, Ryan Anderson ‘16 caught a pass from his brother and out ran a Casa defender for an 81-yard touchdown to make the score 28-14.

“All I was thinking is I have to score right now. I knew that would be a huge boost of momentum after being pinned down on our own 18-yard line,” R. Anderson said. “Every time we scored it changed the momentum of the game, especially with having an amazing crowd like we did that game. We love playing in front of a 12th man, especially one as loud and spirited as ours. It’s honestly a game changer.”

The Anderson-Anderson combo produced yet another touchdown later in the fourth quarter after Casa had caught up and tied the game at 28, to go up 35-28.

With 1:44 left and Casa driving towards Miramonte’s endzone, the Mats knew they would have to make a big stop if they wanted to crush any hope of a Gaucho comeback. It was fourth down for Casa, and when Lawson connected with Zakk Molina ‘14, it looked as if their drive would continue. But just before his knee was down, the ball slipped out of Molina’s hands and was recovered by the Mats, who proceeded to run the clock out on the game and Casa’s dream of winning their first NCS championship.

“To be honest, I felt we had the game pretty well wrapped up [during Casa Grande’s drive],” Bennett Stehr ‘14 said. “I knew there wasn’t a good chance they could drive the ball through the air against our defense in that short of a time. When we got the fumble though it hit me that we were NCS champions. It was an awesome feeling. I was so excited I just started jumping and yelling.”

“The game was a complete battle,” Clark said. “We had to use every last bit of energy to get the win and it paid off. It feels good to be NCS champs because that’s the goal we set at the beginning of the season and we worked every day to achieve it.”

While Miramonte was not chosen as one of the teams to compete in NorCal and have a chance at state, they are still incredibly proud of their achievements this season.

“It was an honor [to win NCS]. That team was so close because only we believed we could do it, nobody else,” Booze said.

D. Anderson said, “Overall the season was awesome, it was everything I hoped my senior year would be. Our team is such a great group of guys and a lot of hard workers so it was great to see all that work pay off in the end. I will definitely never forget this season.”

Six Miramonte players, quarterback Anderson, running back Clark, wide receivers Fuller and Paoletti, tackle Stehr, and guard Booze, made the DFAL’s First Team All-League on offense.

Those who made First Team All-League on defense are defensive lineman Booze, linebackers Stehr and Jonathan McDonald ‘14, and defensive back Clark.

Center Alec Bizieff ‘14 and defensive back Connor Wong ‘14 made Second Team All-League and honorable mentions for the Matadors are kicker Kyle Visher ‘14, defensive lineman Terrance Frank ‘14, linebacker Clayton Stehr ‘16, and defensive back R. Anderson.

The Matadors finished their epic 2013 season with over 4,000 yards passing by Anderson and 1,960 yards rushing (Clark accounting for around 1,400 yards), for a total of over 6,000 offensive yards. They rushed for 24 touchdowns and Anderson threw for 48, only giving up eight interceptions in 14 games.

As Miramonte’s coach Jack Schram told the Contra Costa Times, “He’s one of the best quarterbacks in Northern California, and I think he’s proven it,” he said of Anderson. “Just his pure numbers coming down the stretch after our bye week are unbelievable… Then you get out there and see him in person, and you’ll see why. He has a great presence. He really extends the plays well.”

On the other side of the ball, Miramonte’s impressive defense held opponents to an average of 24 points a game, including one shutout against Dublin. The Mats ended their season on an eight game winning streak and walk away as 2013 NCS Division II champions.

“It’s sad it had to end, but it makes it easier knowing that we accomplished what we’ve been working for for four years,” Anderson said.