All Jacob Rhea had to do was run around the end zone and take a safety and his Del Campo Cougars would defeat the Sacramento Dragons, remain unbeaten and advance in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs.
But in his zeal to kill off some clock while running around in the end zone, Rhea stepped over the goal line and was tackled at his 1-yard line with the No. 4 Cougars leading the No. 5 Dragons 28-21. The Dragons’ Javon Felton scored one play later to force overtime.
Rhea got a chance to redeem himself in the fourth overtime, as he nailed a point after to give the Cougars a wild 49-48 victory and send them to the D-II semifinals next Friday against No.1 Granite Bay at Granite Bay. The Grizzlies trounced the No. 8 Antelope Titans 37-0.
“Coach told me to run around a little and then run out of the end zone, but it was our first time doing it,” Rhea said just moments after the Cougars fans stormed the field in celebration. “As soon as that happened at the 1, I immediately came to the sideline, dropped my helmet and punched the bench thinking that I messed up for my whole team and our undefeated run.”
The Dragons had scored in the fourth overtime, but a botched PAT snap resulted in a miss. All the Cougars had to do was score and give Rhea the chance at redemption. It was one he gladly took.
Greg Cabral scored from eight yards out to tie the game at 48, and Rhea slowly jogged out to set up for the PAT. He knelt as Sacramento called a timeout and prayed.
“I lost my grandfather, Fred Rhea, a couple of years ago and I knew he was up there,” Rhea said. “I can’t think about what just happened right now. One thing I know, I won’t be running around in the end zone with the ball anymore. I’ll let our running backs do that.”
Cougars head coach Mike Dimino said he told Rhea to go into the end zone, run around and, when the Dragons got close to him, to fall down or take a knee for a safety.
“I think he was excited because he had the football and he’s been wanting to play running back all year,” Dimino said. “He’s a heck of a kicker. He’s one of the best, most courageous players I have. He’s mentally strong, too.”
Rhea said he had missed a PAT as a sophomore on the junior varsity with a championship on the line against Whitney. Ever since then he said he’s been working on the mental aspect of the kicking game, how to calm himself and how to get redemption.
It all paid off Friday.
Sacramento finishes the season at 7-5, with three of those losses coming by forfeit after the Sac-Joaquin Section determined the Dragons used an ineligible player.
The Dragons were resilient all game. It appeared they would enter halftime trailing 14-0, but Derek Shelton hit Juwan Tanner for a 25-yard TD pass with 1.4 seconds left. Tanner made a brilliant one-handed catch just past the pylon. Two plays into the second half Shelton and Tanner would hook up for a 61-yard strike to knot the score at 14. Shelton then connected with Mychal Williams on an eight-yard pass for a third unanswered touchdown.
But Del Campo got back into the game with the legs of Cabral and Levi Markey. Cabral was the hammer while Markey was the chisel. They finished with 104 and 103 yards rushing, respectively.
“We played an 11-0 team and they’ve proven themselves regardless of what the media says about the competition they played,” Dragons head coach Joseph McCray said. “Eleven-and-O is just that – 11-0. That shows that they’re a well-rounded football team.”
Dimino said he watched 16-20 hours of Dragons game film last weekend and probably two to four hours a night since then. He had to check that the remote was suck on fast forward. The Dragons were easily the fastest and most talented team they’ve encountered so far this season, he said.
They live to see what Granite Bay has for them next week. Rhea is redeemed. All is right in Cougar Canyon.
Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001.