Cougars were down 28-7 in the third quarter to El Capitan of Lakeside in CIF Division III state bowl game but stage the biggest second-half comeback in the nine years of the CIF bowl games with 35-28 triumph. They won it on an 85-yard fumble return with 52 seconds left, too.
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The old adage “it ain’t over till it’s over” could not be more appropriate than in the way the 2014 CIF Division III Bowl game ended for Campolindo of Moraga.
In arguably the most exciting finish of any game in the nine-year history of the CIF bowl game championships, Cal-Hi Sports No. 21 ranked Campolindo (16-0) overcame a 28-7 late third quarter deficit to win 35-28 over El Capitan of Lakeside on an 85-yard fumble recovery by Cougars’ star Adam Remotto with 52 seconds remaining.
The 21-point deficit ties Madison of San Diego for the largest comeback win in the nine-year history of the CIF bowl game history. Madison trailed Marin Catholic (Kentfield) 21-0 before winning 38-35 in the 2012 Division III Bowl game championship.It’s also the second straight week Campolindo has been behind by multiple touchdowns and came back to win. The Cougars trailed Sutter 14-0 after the first quarter of the NorCal Division III bowl game before rallying for a 35-14 victory.
With the score tied 28-28 and El Capitan driving for what appeared to be a winning score, running back Isaiah Capoocia got tackled hard and was stripped of the ball by Campolindo’s Tiger Garcia. The ball was lying on the turf and Remotto was there to scoop it up and outrace everyone the opposite direction to paydirt.
“After Tiger got the strip I was right there, and once I picked it up all I thought was I just hope I don’t get caught,” said Remotto, who scored three of the last four Campolindo touchdowns.
“He’s heartbroken,” said El Capitan head coach Ron Burner of Capoochia. “ But he made plays for us all season.”
The two teams were tied 7-7 and pretty equally matched after two quarters but it was El Capitan (14-1) that took charge in the third quarter and it looked like the Vaqueros might turn things into a rout.
After both teams went three-and-out to start the second half, the Vaqueros took a 14-7 lead on a 24-yard TD pass from Brad Cagle to Francis Lima that Lima juggled but corralled despite the pass being tipped by Campolindo defensive back Connor McNally.
From there, two special teams snafus by Campolindo led to two El Capitan touchdowns.
First, Capoocia blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt and Sam Melero was there to round up the bouncing pigskin and race 80 yards to give El Capitan a 21-7 lead.
On the next series, Campolindo was forced to punt but never got it off when a bad snap allowed Melero to tackle the Cougars punter on his own 13-yard line. It didn’t take long for the Vaqueros to strike again. On the first play after the botched punt, Capoocia raced 13 yards for a score that gave El Capitan its 21-point lead on three scores in exactly four minutes.
Although it looked bleak, Campolindo was far from finished.
First, quarterback Jack Stephens (19-of-32, 291 yards, four touchdowns) found Remotto for a 17-yard pass reception. Two plays later, he found Remotto again on a 38-yard TD pass that made it 28-14 with 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
At that point, it was Remotto and the defense and special teams of Campolindo that helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The defense stiffened on the next series and after an El Capitan punt the Cougars got the ball back at their own 21-yard line. Seven plays later, Stephens hooked up with Remotto on a 13-yard pass that cut the deficit to 28-21 with 9:11 remaining.
Another defensive stand got Campolindo the ball back at its own 39-yard line. This time, it took six plays for the Cougars to strike. After a 24-yard pass completion to Southern California-commit Tyler Petite (seven catches, 102 yards receiving), Stephens connected with Max Flower for his second TD reception of the game, this time on a 13-yard pass that knotted things at 28-apiece.
The ensuing and final drive for El Capitan began on its own 45-yard line and ended in the ill-timed fumble.
“Those two special teams mistakes, oh gosh. That’s what I thought we might be talking about – and then it turns out the special teams were the difference for us,” said Campolindo head coach Kevin Macy.
“We know exactly what to do when we’re down,” said Remotto, who ended up with a game-high 121-yards receiving to go with his two TD receptions and the fumble recovery for a score.
Although he doesn’t get the props of teammate Petite and running back Nick Fadelli (58 yards rushing), it was Remotto that was the key to the comeback victory.
“That Remotto, what an incredible player he is as beaten down as he’s been,” Macy remarked. “The funk factor is what we call his contributions because he does so many funky things for us.”
No. 16 ranked El Capitan outrushed Campolindo 152 yards to 61, but couldn’t punch it in on the ground and despite two TDs in the air Cagle only passed for 89 yards against the stingy Cougars defense.
“Our defense was incredible today,” Macy said. “Our kids in the box and the line of scrimmage, we’re an undersized defense but our kids work hard.”
Cagle also was limited by an injury that Burner said it was believed to be a broken right foot. A three-year starter, Cagle was carried off to the locker room at halftime, but returned and played in the second half.
“You just have to take your hat off to them for being down 28-7,” Burner said “We were limited by what we could do (because of the injury), but that’s part of the game.”
The victory not only avenges the Campolindo 21-16 Division III bowl game loss in 2011 to Washington Union (Fresno), but it’s the first bowl game win for a team from the CIF North Coast Section other than De La Salle of Concord.
“I remember when we came down before and De La Salle was the only team from the East Bay to win,” Macy remarked. “We’re the little guys but that still put a little more pressure on us for that East Bay pride.”
The little guys from the North Coast Section now have something to be really proud of.
Cal-Hi Sports co-founder & editor Mark Tennis also contributed to this post. Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend