Coming up short in a North Coast Section Division 2 semifinal for the second season in a row Saturday night, the Vintage High football team went down kicking and screaming this time.
They didn’t literally. But the second-seeded Crushers did battle a bigger and more playoff-savvy Campolindo squad all the way to the finish a 28-21 loss Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
“We’re going to fight. It’s who we are,” Vintage head coach Dylan Leach said afterward. “We’re not going to go down easy against anybody.”
The third-seeded Cougars from Moraga were in the playoffs for the 14th season in a row, with state titles as recently as 2014 and 2016. But they couldn’t deliver the knockout blow until Rex Curtiss scored on a 19-yard catch-and-run from UC Davis-bound quarterback Grant Harper with 32.7 seconds left.
Vintage (10-2) had to go 99 yards to answer, because the ensuing kickoff had touched the returner and rolled out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Junior quarterback Jacob Aaron found Mauricio Castro with a 9-yard pass to the Vintage 15 in the final seconds, but threw incomplete and was stopped for no gain to end the game.
“Everyone was in it. Everyone wanted it so bad,” said senior linebacker Bryce Eade, Vintage’s leading tackler on the season. “All week were just talking about Campo, trying to get the work done and knowing our steps and getting everything done right so we could move on (to the title game).”
Backup quarterback and starting safety Bill Chaidez had his best game of the season for Vintage, with a team-high 83 yards on 11 carries and an interception that set up the Crushers’ second scoring drive.
“We were pushing the whole way. There was no giving up for us,” the junior said.
The Cougars (10-2) never led by more than a touchdown, but never trailed. In fact, they appeared on the verge of breaking the game open several times.
After a punt snap went through the Vintage punter’s hands and Campolindo took over at the Crushers’ 29 with 1:18 left in the first half, the first penalties of the game by either team led to the Cougars settling for a 39-yard field goal attempt. But it sailed wide left, and the visitors went into the locker room with a 14-7 lead.
The Crushers went three and out to start the second half, and the Cougars drove to the Vintage 22. The southpaw Harper then dropped back to pass but was sacked for the first time all night by Mosaati Schaumkel, a sophomore pulled up from the junior varsity for the playoffs.
“We needed a little boost, so we brought him in and he was a great addition,” Leach said of Schaumkel. “The future’s bright here at Vintage High School.”
After an illegal procedure call, Chaidez snagged Harper’s seventh interception of the season and returned it to the Vintage 39.
“He’s a stud, their quarterback,” Chaidez said of Harper. “(But) he got a little pressure and he got rid of the ball and I just happened to be in the right place. We needed a big play.”
Sparked by three Chaidez carries off direct snaps in the Wildcat formation for 28 yards, and a 27-yard completion from Aaron to Reid McCaffreyl, the Crushers tied the score 14-14 on Aaron’s 1-yard keeper.
Leach said going to Chaidez in the Wildcat wasn’t planned before the game.
“I was just going off feeling, seeing if it looked like it (would work),” the coach said. “They were taking away our mid-line and our dive, so we had to go a little bit outside. He had to find the hole and go.”
Campolindo took another lead, 21-14, when Harper hit Curtiss with a 60-yard pass to set up Ryan O’Neil’s 1-yard scoring plunge late in the third quarter.
But Vintage answered again with an 11-play, 63-yard scoring march. Chaidez carried the ball off direct snaps on the last five plays, scoring on a 7-yard burst over the left side that – with Tate Salese’s third extra point of the night – tied the score 21-21 with 8:12 left in the game.
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“I just got behind our big guys, kept my nose down and let them lead the way,” said Chaidez.
Harper, after drawing Vintage offsides with a hard count on the ensuing drive, was stymied by another interception. Playing safety, Aaron heisted the pass near the sideline and managed to keep his feet inbounds.
Vintage then fed more direct snaps to Chaidez, allowing the Crushers to outman the Cougars at the point of attack. But he fumbled into Campolindo’s hands at the Cougars’ 42 with 3:59 left.
After another Schaumkel sack, Harper drew the Crushers offsides on fourth down for a first down at the Vintage 32, and hit Curtiss with the game-winner shortly after. Harper finished 12 of 19 passing for 231 yards and three scores.
“In a big game like this, you just can’t make those mistakes,” Chaidez said. “You’ve got to be more disciplined.”
While Chaidez was a game-changer for Vintage, Curtiss was the same for Campolindo after the Cougars went three and out on their first two drives of the game. After catching a 10-yard pass to open their third possession, he pulled in a 68-yard touchdown toss from Harper despite being draped by a Crusher defender.
Eade said the Crushers weren’t intimidated by Harper’s 2,008 yards and 19 touchdown passes coming into the game.
“On film we saw that he likes to do, but a quarterback’s a quarterback,” he said. “Everyone’s a central player in a big game like this. Everyone’s an athlete.”
Aaron tied it with a 13-yard run set up by a nice fake, the 10th play of a 65-yard drive, to tie it 7-7 early in the second quarter.
The Cougars answered with a 10-play scoring march of their own, as Harper hit Joey Schmidt with a 4-yard touchdown pass for the 14-7 halftime lead.
Leach was proud of his seniors and their two 10-game win streaks.
“These seniors are 20-4. I don’t know when was the last time two classes have been 20-4 around here, so this is a good thing for us,” the coach said. “Hopefully we’ll keep doing the same thing.”
But not making as many mental errors.
“You’ve got 16-year-old kids – actually, five of our starters are 15 – so that’s going to happen,” Leach said. “I’m not going to sit here and point fingers at anyone. I’m going to look in the mirror first and understand that it’s my job to get us back here without those mistakes the following year.”
Chaidez will be one of those returners next year.
“We wanted to be playing Clayton Valley next week. Things just didn’t go our way,” he said. “Obviously we need to get back in the weight room and we’ve got things to improve on and new guys coming up and try to fill the shoes of these seniors. We’re really looking forward to next year.”
Eade, a senior, is confident his younger teammates will return to the semifinals again.
“Especially with our coaches,” he said, “I think they’ll be back.”