El Camino Wildcats 28, Steele Canyon Cougars 18
The stage is set for an all-Oceanside matchup in the CIF San Diego Section Division 1 final, as the El Camino Wildcats defeated for a second straight season the Steele Canyon Cougars in the playoffs, this time winning by a larger margin on Friday’s 28-18 victory.
From first-year standout varsity running back Chris Brown’s two-touchdown performance to another solid night for senior running back Aris Jackson and an active defense, players up and down the Wildcats’ roster played like a team ready to do what El Camino fell short of a year ago: advance to the Division 1 final. Jackson, a member of that 2014 team that fell to the St. Augustine Saints, said the goal heading in was to "go to the ship." That, the Wildcats did.
Opposite the Wildcats next Friday in the final will be their crosstown rival, the Oceanside Pirates, giving El Camino yet another opportunity to improve on a past performance. With this one, though, the Wildcats won’t have to wait a year to show they can make the improvement. It was only three weeks ago in their final regular season game when the Wildcats fell to the Pirates 29-7 to lose the annual Oceanside City Championship.
Friday’s semifinal started slow, with neither the Wildcats nor the Cougars able to string together scoring drives through most of the first quarter. As the minutes wound down in that first period, though, both El Camino’s offensive and defensive units began to inflict damage, starting with a third-down hold for the Wildcat defense with Steele Canyon in El Camino territory. A shared sack of Steele Canyon quarterback Thomas Fishburne by senior Tanner Miller and Brown — at that time playing defense — gave El Camino the ball and Brown and Jackson a chance to shine.
Both Brown and Jackson ran the Wildcats forward in the ensuing drive, including Brown pushing forward on a 23-yard run to set El Camino up on a short field. Jackson and El Camino quarterback Beau Gallegos capped the drive with a 14-yard connection in the end zone for the 7-0 El Camino lead late in the first quarter. Fishburne again, as he did a week ago in Steele Canyon’s win over the Grossmont Foothillers, used his own feet to try to keep the Cougars in the game. His 12-yard keeper for a score brought a 7-7 tie in the second quarter Friday, but that would be the last time the Cougars would look like they could match the Wildcats. Not long after, Brown scored his first touchdown, a 27-yard run that would give El Camino the 14-7 lead at the half. Brown’s second touchdown, this time a 37-yarder, came in the fourth quarter after El Camino’s defense put a stop to a Steele Canyon drive that began on a Ny Johnson interception of Wildcats quarterback Beau Gallegos. Brown’s score was preceded by the work of El Camino’s Malu Malotumau and Joseph Carvajal, who put a stop to Cougars running back Pierre Alexander behind the line of scrimmage to return the ball to the Wildcats’ offense and Brown’s active legs.
The Wildcats’ defense again put a stop to a Cougars drive headed for the end zone later in the quarter, when senior defensive end Kenidy Malauulu sacked Fishburne for an 8-yard loss, setting up a third-and-long that even Fishburne’s legs would come up two yards short of overcoming.
Senior El Camino fullback Spencer Katoanga capped the Wildcats’ scoring on a 1-yard push into the end zone late. A late-quarter score for Steele Canyon would shrink the Cougars’ deficit to 10 points — Wildcats players could be heard on the sidelines trying to keep their teammates alert of a potential comeback push — but the clock ticking to fewer than four minutes, then three minutes, suggested the game was all but over by then.
Next Friday’s final between the Wildcats and Pirates is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, where the KUSI Prep Pigskin Report will again be reporting live from, starting at 10:30 p.m, to bring results from all of the San Diego Section’s division finals.
Fo a second straight year, the El Camino Wildcats and Steele Canyon Cougars find themselves facing each other in the Division 1 playoffs. The stakes are higher this time around, though, as the two teams will battle for who gets to play Dec. 4 at Southwestern College in the Division 1 final.
When these two teams met a year ago in the Division 1 quarterfinals, El Camino emerged the victor in a close 33-31 game. The Wildcats would go on to lose 14-7 the following week in the semifinals against the St. Augustine Saints, setting up this match-up to be the Wildcats’ chance to do what it failed to do a season ago in qualifying for the Division’s biggest game.
To do so, the No. 3-seeded Wildcats (6-5) will have to get past Steele Canyon (8-4), which has reached this point by already winning twice in this Division 1 tournament, including the team’s 39-35 win last week over the No. 2-seeded Grossmont Foothillers. El Camino will enter the game having won a week earlier against the No. 6 Torrey Pines Falcons, by a score of 14-10.
Wildcats running back Chris Brown played a pivotal role in the win, carrying the ball 14 times and scoring both of the Wildcats’ touchdowns, one of which accounted for 97 of Brown’s total 166 yards on the ground.
The Cougars find themselves in this semifinal on the heels of a late comeback over Grossmont. Down 35-7 as late as the third quarter against the Foothillers, Steele Canyon worked its way back into the quarterfinals game on a score from running back Pierre Alexander, an interception from linebacker Jake Citrinitti and another score from fullback Amir Harris. A series of holds for the Cougar defense and additional late-game scores by Andres Navarro and quarterback Thomas Fishburne closed the brought the Cougars within 2 points of the Foothillers. The Cougars capped their comeback with a dramatic final score. With 90 seconds remaining and Grossmont forced to punt deep in its own territory, a punt block from the Cougars’ Mikel Oliver, and his own recovery of the ball in the end zone, sent victory the Cougars’ way.
The dual-story narrative of this Division 1 semifinal is of one team picking up where it was last season at this point, looking for a different result, and another looking to show that its grit through this playoff run has been a sign of its worthiness of an appearance in final. The stronger of the two stories will play out Friday, starting with the 7 p.m. kickoff at El Camino High School. Highlights from the game and other playoff matches from around San Diego County will follow, on the KUSI Prep Pigskin Report, starting at 10:30 p.m. Friday on KUSI.