BRENTWOOD — Running back Jacob Himan relayed a simple message to San Ramon Valley High School football coach Aaron Becker once All-American Tristan Sinclair went down with a season-ending injury three weeks ago.
“The game Tristan went down in the middle of game, he came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I’m a workhorse,’” Becker said.
Himan lived up to his word, and now the Wolves can call themselves North Coast Section champions.
Behind an often dominant offensive line, the junior running back had 189 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries as fourth-seeded San Ramon Valley earned a wild 28-21 win over No. 3 Freedom in the NCS Division I title game on a foggy Saturday night at Heritage High.
“It helps with everybody else, they kept cheering me on. Tristan’s a huge role model,” Himan said. “Just trying to fill in for his spot. It’s a huge spot. I’m just trying to fill it in.”
With the game tied at 21 after Freedom senior Giles Jackson caught a 39-yard touchdown pass with 8:15 to go in the fourth quarter, Himan and the Wolves offense drove 66 yards on 13 plays, capped by a 1-yard plunge by quarterback Brandon Cammisa with 1:55 to go in regulation.
Freedom responded with a lengthy drive of its own, moving the ball deep into Wolves territory with under a minute to go as Mekel Ealy caught a 61-yard pass from quarterback Joey Aguilar to get the ball to San Ramon Valley’s 27.
A pass interference call brought the ball to the Wolves’ 13. But Aguilar was sacked by Kole Cooper for an 8-yard loss on first down, and after a dropped pass on second down on what may have been a hook-and-lateral try, Jered Kenny picked off Aguilar’s pass on third down with 4.5 seconds left to help San Ramon Valley capture its first NCS crown in 11 years.
Kenny said on the play before the interception, teammate and linebacker Noah Thomas told him that Freedom’s second receiver on the left side, Jaimier Parker, was wide open, and that the Falcons might try to go there on the next play.
“I was just reading that on the next play, seeing if the (Aguilar) would look there, and he looked there right after that,” Kenny said.
Each team played to its strengths. Freedom showed off its quick-strike capability and San Ramon Valley went on deliberate, clock-eating drives, with the ball usually finding its way into Himan’s hands.
Interception San Ramon Valley with 4.5 seconds left, and the Wolves capture the NCS Division I title pic.twitter.com/pQFZWEmQbs
— Curtis Pashelka (@CurtisPashelka) December 9, 2018
“That was the type of game we needed,” Becker said of being able to run the ball effectively. “If it didn’t go that way, it wasn’t going to work out in out favor.”
“They did a great job,” Freedom coach Andrew Cotter said. “Their run game is impressive, and they’re physical. I think we did a good job defensively, and they just kind of pounded it and that’s tough to do.”
San Ramon Valley began the scoring with its first possession, as Himan carried the ball on 12 of the Wolves’ 13 plays before ending the drive with 8-yard touchdown run up the middle with 3:51 left in the first quarter.
It was a statement-type drive by San Ramon Valley, but its lead lasted only a few seconds.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ealy darted through the foggy conditions from one side of the field to the other, eventually going more than 80 yards for a Freedom touchdown with 3:37 to go in the first.
It was exactly the type of big play the Wolves were hoping to take away from Freedom, which would take its first lead with 3:25 to go in the first half.
After the Falcons blocked a punt and recovered at the San Ramon Valley 42, Jackson caught two passes for 34 yards on the ensuing drive, then scored on a 3-yard run to put his team up 14-7.
San Ramon Valley answered with a big play of its own, with Cammisa finding JP Murphy open deep down the middle for a 45-yard touchdown catch with 40.2 seconds left in the second quarter.
The touchdown helped set the tone for the start of the third quarter. On the Wolves’ first drive, Himan carried the ball on eight of nine plays before he ran in from 10-yards out to give his team a 21-14 lead.
Himan became San Ramon Valley’s lead running back on Nov. 24, when Sinclair injured his shoulder early in the first quarter of what turned out to be a 21-17 quarterfinal win over rival Monte Vista.
Himan had 121 rushing yards in that game, 85 more in SRV’s semifinal win over Vintage-Napa and finished the season with another huge performance in the championship game.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Freedom, which had beaten San Ramon Valley 37-24 in September. The Falcons also advanced to the NCS Division I title game last season.
“Getting back to this game was a big thing for these guys,” Cotter said. “Obviously we would have liked to been able to win, but that’s just not how it goes sometimes. There’s going to be more, there’s going to be less. Just have to keep grinding.”
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