Marin Catholic watched last year as Campolindo won the North Coast Section Division III title on a last second field goal. This time around, the Wildcats got a 27 yard field goal from Chris Hill to beat previously unbeaten El Cerrito 31-28 at Pinole Valley High School.
No team led by more than seven points all night with the score tied at seven after the first quarter, 14 at halftime and 21 after three quarters. It proved to be tough to sustain drives against two quality defenses as Marin Catholic (65 yards) and El Cerrito (60 yards) both turned in big play touchdowns to create quick points. In the end, three El Cerrito turnovers were too much as the Wildcats won their first section title since 2009.
For the Wildcats, it always starts with 4-star quarterback Jared Goff. Standing at a lanky 6-foot-5, Goff finished 7-for-19 for 110 yards with 77 yards rushing, including a 30 yard touchdown run which showed off his speed. The Cal commit was plagued by drops on a rainy night, but showed poise going through his reads and good ball skills in the zone read attack. He also converted a fourth down curl route on the eventual game winning drive. You can't really define how valuable it is to have an elite quarterback at this level, but it has Marin Catholic looking at a likely regional bowl bid.
Senior running back Akili Terry (6-foot-0, 205 pounds) impressed with his hard running style and running straight ahead against the speed of El Cerrito. He had 124 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries to give the Wildcats' offense a boost on a night when the passing game was grounded. There are always surpluses of good high school backs that don't get a Division I shot, but he should certainly get strong FCS looks.
"He has tipped the scales for us. He keeps people honest and gives us that dimension," Marin Catholic head coach Mazi Moayed said. "We wouldn't be in this position without Terry."
The Marin Catholic defense surrendered 325 yards and covered El Cerrito's wide receivers well down field. They also were able to make stops on the outside, but wore down as the game went on especially against El Cerrito quarterback Keilan Benjamin.
"The quarterback Benjamin, he's unbelievable," Moayed said. "He had us looking like we were standing still half the game. He was tiring us out."
Keilan Benjamin looked to hold the ball for a little too long in the first half, but proved to be a dynamic running threat late. He had 18 carries for 136 yards and two touchdowns, including a 60 yard run around right end. He also tossed a fourth quarter touchdown. The junior is elusive in the pocket and seems under control in his movements.
With an Utah assistant coach on the sideline, Utah commit Marcellus Pippins played very well. Defensively, he played a couple deep balls perfectly, including reading a seam route down the sideline which should have resulted in an interception. He also bounced a red zone run out left for a touchdown. While he is a smaller corner at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Pippins can be physical at the line.
The future is bright for the Gauchos with plenty of talent in the junior class. Keilan Benjamin and wide receiver Jalen Harvey are just two of the offensive returns while talented recruits Derick Calhoun and Adarius Pickett will lead a talented defense. El Cerrito should be in the NCP Top 20 next August.
This was the NCS Division III final many pointed too for some time and it didn't disappoint. Marin Catholic will likely be in the Division III regional bowl against Sutter from the Northern Section. The Wildcats figure to go in as the consensus favorite with the ability to run and pass and a defense tested against a variety of offenses. The path looks good for Marin Catholic to make a return trip to Carson.