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ROHNERT PARK — Eighth-seeded American Canyon saw its football season come to an end at the hands of No. 1 seed Rancho Cotate, 42-7, Saturday night in a CIF North Coast Section Div. 2 playoff quarterfinal that was played much closer than the final score would indicate.

The Wolves committed six turnovers – five in the second half, when they allowed a minor 14-7 halftime deficit to swell into a blowout despite their best efforts.

“I’m proud of them,” American Canyon head coach John Montante said of his players. “The breaks didn’t go our way, but we kept fighting. At this stage of the season, against a team of that caliber, you just can’t let off the gas or gift them any possessions.”

Dealing with the Cougars’ three-headed offensive monster of quarterback Jared Stocker, running back Rasheed Rankin and wide receiver Connor Barbato, the Wolves held their ground defensively in the first half before the hosts changed up their game plan.

Although they gave up a pair of long passing touchdowns in the first quarter, the Wolves effectively stymied Rancho Cotate’s running game early and held Rankin to only 6 yards on 7 carries in the first half while sacking Stocker thrice.

But the Cougars abandoned their spread attack to open the second half in favor of a smashmouth running game, with direct-snap power formations that revved up their offense and utilized the clear size advantage they had over the Wolves.

“All four years of my high school career, we’ve been undersized,” American Canyon senior two-way lineman Jacob Mitchell said. “This was nothing different. We did our best and played physical every down, but it just slipped away from us.”

Said Montante of the Cougars’ second-half offensive switch to a power formation, “We had seen it on film, but they did it to a bigger degree against us. We took them out of their base offense a bit and they did more stuff out of that package than we had seen on film.”

That offensive change proved fruitful for the Cougars, as they piled on 21 third-quarter points behind two Rankin scores and another from Sumari Jones.

And while it looked to observers that Rancho Cotate had found a way to out-scheme American Canyon through second-half adjustments, Wolves star senior running back and nose tackle Eddie Byrdsong suggested that the opponent’s success had more to do with poor tackling.

“We started dive tackling at (Rankin) when we should’ve been hitting him in his ribs all night like how we started,” he said. “We didn’t stick to our plan that we had set, and we paid for it.”

After Byrdsong racked up an implausible 356 yards against No. 9 seed Montgomery in the Wolves’ 43-29 opening-round win, Rancho Cotate keyed in on him all night and limited him to 79 yards on 23 carries.

Darius Thomas stepped up to give American Canyon 52 rushing yards and the team’s lone touchdown across 6 rushing attempts. But with the Wolves’ rushing game limited, they needed junior quarterback Vance Eschenburg to step up.

Although Eschenburg came into the game without having thrown an interception through the first 11 games, he threw three and had a hand in three fumbled exchanges in the backfield as the Wolves’ chances at clawing their way back from a big deficit fizzled.

“Vance is typically his own worst critic,” Montante said. “He’s going to learn from this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s watching film tomorrow trying to figure out what happened.

“Joe Montana has had bad games, Brett Favre has had bad games. Everybody has bad games. Vance is growing as a quarterback and he’s got a lot of potential in him, so we’re looking forward to what the offseason brings.”

Montante suggested that an experience like this will teach returning players such as Eschenburg an indispensable lesson.

“Nobody gives you nothing. You’ve got to earn it every step of the way, at every point, every day and every minute,” he said. “J.J. Watt has a great quote, saying, ‘Success is not owned, it’s leased. And rent is due every day.’ I think that’s the lesson that we need to take away.”

Rancho Cotate’s season will continue next Friday night when it hosts No. 5 seed Marin Catholic in the semifinals.

Meanwhile, American Canyon will have to wait until summer to put the pads back on. And the Wolves will be chomping at the bit to get back in action with this playoff loss in the back of their minds.

While many fans of American Canyon football will quickly try to forget the outcome of this one, Byrdsong and Mitchell hope their younger teammates hold onto the bitter feeling.

“Remember this,” Byrdsong said.

“Don’t forget it,” added Mitchell. “Come back even harder.”

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