Game over! El Capitan Vaqueros rope Broncos for CIFSDS Football Championship

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With Southwestern College’s brand-new $45 million field house looming in the background at last weekend’s CIF San Diego Section (CIFSDS) Football Championships, fans nearly filled DeVore Stadium’s roughly 7,000 seats for the Division II final between the El Capitan Vaqueros and the Rancho Bernardo Broncos.

With Southwestern College’s brand-new $45 million field house looming in the background at last weekend’s CIF San Diego Section (CIFSDS) Football Championships, fans nearly filled DeVore Stadium’s roughly 7,000 seats for the Division II final between the El Capitan Vaqueros and the Rancho Bernardo Broncos.

Spectators could hardly take a step without catching the sweet scent of kettle corn. Simultaneously, pockets of the crowd repeated the cheerleader’s chants, others sang along with the bands’ renditions of classic rock melodies, modern pop hits and, of course, fight songs, and the rowdy student sections tried to show up their counterparts across the field. Somehow the competing voices combined to form a single roar.

It would have been easy for the players on the field to get lost in the moment, especially for a school that has never appeared in a section final.

El Capitan, however, fed off the energy and took down the Broncos, 14-7, in a gritty defensive battle to remain undefeated and win its first San Diego Section title.

Senior quarterback Brad Cagle said he was excited to be a part of the Vaqueros’ historic season.

“It’s a phenomenal feeling for the whole team,” he said. “We’ve worked so hard all season long. Ever since we were little kids, we’ve worked for this moment. Hard work definitely pays off.”
In the fourth quarter, with the Vaqueros holding a 14-7 lead, a Rancho Bernardo senior Kameron Calhoun punt return gave the Broncos a first down on El Capitan’s 25-yard line.

After a one-yard gain on first down and a four-yard carry on second down, Rancho Bernardo running back Anthony Barnum took a handoff up the middle on third-and-5. He burst through the hole for three yards but the cloud of dust came when Vaquero linebacker D.J. Smith and Nathan Lovato converged on Barnum and forced a fourth down.

Needing just two yards to extend the drive, Bronco coach Tristan McCoy elected to leave the offense on the field. Once again, he called on number 35.

Barnum took the handoff and headed straight for middle of the line, but El Capitan senior nose guard Clayton Cromwell ripped through the line and threw him to the turf.

Cromwell said the Vaqueros’ preseason training played an integral part during the final quarter.

“In the beginning of the year we did the Navy SEAL training, at their camp,” he said. “One of the things they really drilled into us is that no matter what, even when you feel like you’ve got nothing left, there’s another 10 percent you’ve got to dig down and find… That’s what helped us in those last few drives in the fourth quarter.” Senior wide receiver/defensive back Isaiah Capoocia said the defense understood how hard they would have to work to finish the game.

“We knew we had to keep stopping them and stopping them,” he said. “Our offense, we were struggling in the first half. We knew we had to be clutch.”

Capoocia’s words proved true—after the Broncos forced an El Capitan three-and-out, they drove downfield until they faced third-and-4, again on the Vaquero 25-yard line.

Senior quarterback Tucker Reed took the snap and looked downfield. El Capitan’s swarming defense, however, quickly collapsed the pocket. Reed had no choice but to sprint to right and was tripped up before he could make a play. McCoy called a timeout with 1:38 left in the game to give the Broncos one last chance on fourth-and-11.

Once again, Reed took the snap. This time, he ran to his right on a designed rollout. Bronco receiver Devin Goodloe drifted left into a soft spot in El Capitan’s coverage, but Reed’s pass sailed just over his fingertips.

Cromwell said the Vaqueros could not have won the Division II trophy without their support in East County.

“We have the whole town behind us, supporting us,” he said. “Every day, everywhere we went in Lakeside, we had people we didn’t even know coming up to us just telling us good luck. Always having our backs and always supporting us. It’s just an unreal feeling.”

El Capitan still has an opportunity to bring more hardware to Lakeside—at 7:30 on Saturday, Dec. 13 it hosts Paso Robles High School in the Division III Southern California Regional Championship (for state bowl games, CIFSDS’s open section is considered D-I, D-I is considered D-II, etc.). If the Vaqueros win, they will play the Northern California champion on Dec. 20 at the StubHub Center in Carson at 12 p.m. for the state title. Two other East County schools also earned berths in the CIFSDS Championships.

Helix lost a heartbreaking 20-13 battle with Oceanside High School in the Open Division Championship.

Christian High School won the Division III title, 31-9, against Hoover. It will play against St. Margaret’s Episcopal School (San Juan Capistrano, CA) in the D-IV Southern California Regional. The game will be played at 7:30 on Friday Dec. 12 at Granite Hills High School and, if Christian wins, it will play the Northern California Champion on Friday, Dec. 19 at 4 p.m. at the StubHub Center.

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