Most California prep football experts felt this might be one of the weekend’s more hotly-contested matchups, and it was every bit as much.
The Saturday afternoon battle at The Home Depot Center in Carson also showcased three of the more highly touted recruits playing in this year’s CIF bowl game competition.
In the end, it was Arizona-bound running back Pierre Cormier rushing for a Division III bowl game record 272 yards with three touchdowns, as Madison (14-1) overcame a 21-0 early second-quarter deficit to win it first-ever state bowl game championship.
Madison’s 38-35 victory erased the memories of a loss the Warhawks had in the CIF Division III state final two years ago on a rain-soaked field to Escalon.
It also vindicated the CIF bowl game selection committee, which named Madison as one of two teams along with Monrovia for this year’s Division III regional game in what was probably a close call over others such as unbeaten Wasco, Corona del Mar of Newport Beach and perhaps Nordhoff of Ojai.
“If people had watched us throughout the season, they’d know what we could do,” said Madison coach Rick Jackson, whose team won a tough 35-21 victory over higher-ranked St. Augustine two weeks ago for the CIF San Diego Section Division IV title. “I really thought whoever won that game would get in. It’s been a tough road for us because Monrovia last week was a good football team, too.”
For his efforts, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Cormier has been named the Cal-Hi Sports Offensive Player of the Game, an honor which gets him listed in the state record book.Marin Catholic (14-2) looked overpowering to start the game. After kicking off, the Wildcats pushed the Warhawks back 19 yards in the game’s first three plays.
Madison punted to Andrew Celis, and Marin Catholic’s junior standout returned it 30 yards to set up first-and-goal. That would be the first of several outstanding returns, and defensive and offensive plays Celis would make in the game.
Two plays later, Cal-bound 6-foot-5, 190-pound quarterback Jared Goff (14-of-30, 262 yards, four TDs, one INT) went in from four yards out and it was 7-0 Marin Catholic. A 16-yard pass from Goff to Billy Alten made it 14-0, and on the first play of the second quarter Goff hit Celis on a four-yard pass and it was 21-0. The boys from the Bay Area sure looked like they might blow out the struggling Warhawks.
Although the game would have several twists and turns in the fourth quarter, the ensuing Madison series after falling behind by three scores proved to be a huge momentum changer.
Despite being held to nine yards and one first down in the first quarter, Madison turned it around, and in a hurry, but not without a fortuitous bounce of the football.
After taking an out-of-bounds kickoff at the 35, Cormier raced 15 yards on the first play to midfield. On the next play, the ball was snapped over the head of quarterback Kareem Coles, but the ball bounced right up to him, and after running around deep in his backfield, the 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore heaved a desperation pass that came down in the hands of Lawrence Walker, and the Arizona-bound wide receiver took it to the house.
Marin Catholic seemed deflated and Madison took advantage of it, scoring on three of its next four possessions to take 24-21 lead on 24 straight points.
A 30-yard TD run by Cormier made it 31-21, but Goff and the Wildcats were not quite ready to throw in the towel.
After Akili Terry (17 carries, 99 yards) had a short run, Goff found Danny Noonan for a 76-yard touchdown and the Wildcats closed to 31-38.
Coles, who had gone out with a leg injury with 3:10 left in the third quarter, returned, but while trying to escape the rush he fumbled and Marin Catholic’s Colorado-bound lineman Gunnar Graham recovered, and the Wildcats were in business at their own 39-yard line.
Just like he has done so many times over the last two seasons, Goff orchestrated what looked to be a game-winning drive when he guided Marin Catholic 61 yards in four plays, culminating in a 37-yard scoring strike to Colton Hanley that gave his team a 35-31 lead.
This day however, belonged to Cormier.
A kickoff return to the 26 and a 5-yard penalty set the ball back to the 21. An incomplete pass by Coles set up second-and-15 and Marin Catholic looked to be in a good position with it looking like a passing situation for Madison.
Then, almost as fast as the blink of an eye, Cormier took a handoff and split the tackles, and blew past everyone for a 79-yard touchdown that was the game winner.
“He was just ridiculously good today,” Jackson said. “It’s the biggest stage and he did great. We took their best shot and then the biggest thing that happened was that broken play.”
Goff was able to orchestrate the previous drive for a score, but after getting the kickoff at the 15 and moving the team 55 yards to the Madison 30, he was sacked by Keoni Kanoa, threw an incompletion, and on fourth-and-16 he was picked off by Austen Scarville.
From there, Madison then ran out the clock.
Defensive Player of the Game:
Andrew Celis (Marin Catholic, Kentfield) 6-0, 175, Jr.
Since there were no players in the game officially with double-digit tackles and with just one turnover for each team, this is a good place to mention the versatile skills of Celis. On defense, Celis had five tackles with one sack. He had two tackles for loss and broke up one pass. Offensively, Celis led the Wildcats with six catches for 76 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed twice for 10 yards, returned three kicks for 123 yards and averaged 36 yards on punts.
Celis may not match the ideal requirements for some colleges, but he reminds us of Drew Edelman when he was doing the same thing for an unbeaten team at Woodside and Edelman is now in the NFL. In the right system, such as a spread-style offense, he could be a very good slot receiver.
Underclass Player of the Game:
Kareem Coles (Madison, San Diego) 6-0, 170, Soph.
It was a shaky start for the sophomore quarterback of the Warhawks, but he seemed to grow up in front of our eyes after making one play that turned everything around.
With Madison trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter, Coles scrambled away from pressure, reversed the field and threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Lawrence Walker. Coles then directed scoring drives for Madison on several subsequent possessions, helping the Warhawks score 31 straight points.
“I was a little nervous, but then felt better later on,” Coles said. “That play gave us a big boost. I felt we started clicking on all cylinders.”
Despite missing one series while battling cramps, Coles finished with 11 carries for 55 yards and completed eight of 21 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Note: CIF San Diego Section teams that have won CIF state bowl games since 2007 (first year of event was 2006) are Oceanside (2007 D2), Cathedral Catholic (2008 D2), Oceanside (2009 D1), Bishop’s of La Jolla (2010 D4), Helix of La Mesa (2011 D2), Madison (2012 D3).
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