As excuses go, D’Marcus Ross’ whopper seemed legit.
The Capital Christian senior running back had already ripped off touchdown runs of 75 and 23 yards, had a pass play for a 76-yard score, and was on his way to what would have been an 87-yarder against Vista del Lago on Friday night in Folsom when he was caught from behind. That rarely happens. He had to settle for just 66 yards on the carry.
“I was tired,” he said. “I think it’s the thin air up here.”
For the record, Vista del Lago High sits at 350 feet above sea level – about 250 feet higher than Rancho Cordova, where Capital Christian is based.
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Ross rushed for 345 yards on just 21 carries in leading No. 6 Capital Christian to a 40-14 victory over Vista del Lago to complete a perfect 10-0 regular season and the program’s first Capital Athletic League title.
The Cougars will have a first-round bye next week.
Ross’ shook off arm tackles, bucked off those who leapt on his back and juked away from those trying to get an angle on the senior runner. His first score came off a short pass from Cooper Crick that he turned into the 76-yard TD.
“He’s just a special player,” Capital Christian head coach Casey Taylor said. “He’s a team leader; he’s elusive; he likes to compete and he can catch the ball. He’s as good a runner as I’ve had and is a combination of all of them.
“He’s been a four-year starter at Capital Christian and has really grown as a player and a person. He’s doing better in the classroom, too.”
Ross said that the academic rigor at Capital Christian took him his entire freshman year to get accustomed. Then when Taylor and his staff came in before his junior season, the emphasis on education ramped up even more, but this time he was ready challenges in the classroom and on the football field.
“We’ve always had a great program here,” said Ross, a four-year starter whose neighborhood school is Grant. “But I’ve really grown as a student and our study halls every Thursday and our coaches staying on us has really helped, too.”
Taylor said Ross’ focus in the classroom has helped lead him to 14-15 scholarship offers from programs such as San Diego State, Colorado State and Fresno State. Taylor said a couple of coaches from Navy were in the stands taking a closer look at Ross.
“He hasn’t cracked the Pac-12 yet,” Taylor said of the offers coming in. “He can play linebacker on the next level. In fact, UNLV wants him as a linebacker.”
Ross made his linebacking presence known on the very first play of the game. Tyler Bolyard gathered the short pass near his sideline but before he could turn upfield D’Marcus Ross closed in on him and laid a thundering hit on the Vista del Lago receiver, driving him backward for no gain. The sound the hit made served as a resounding “hello.”
Taylor said Ross’ coming out party was against Grant on Aug. 31 when he rushed for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He had a run of 85 yards to pace the Cougars to a 43-12 win.
Taylor, just three seasons removed from guiding Del Oro to a state title, has the Cougars vying with undefeated Placer for the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division III top seed. Placer had to make a furious comeback against Lincoln on Friday night to pull off a 52-48 win to stay unbeaten.
Taylor said he woke up Friday morning calm, cool and collected. The pressure to stay unbeaten wasn’t a factor, wasn’t on his mind, he said. Rather, winning the CAL title was what he and the team were most worried about against Vista del Lago.
“It’s a cliché, but we do really take it week to week,” Casey Taylor said. “But in close to 30 years of coaching it’s only been a couple of times that one of my teams has been undefeated. So it’s special.”
Taylor said last year’s 26-7 first-round playoff upset loss to Bear River refocused the entire program. They hit the weights harder than ever and came out in 2018 with a sharper edge. That loss was in Div. IV and the Capital Christian won’t get revenge this season as they play up a division. But the sting is still there, Taylor said.
“Losing to Bear River … they hit us in the mouth,” Taylor said. “We knew what we had to do. We were Division 5 for a long time, then Div. 3 and then made the jump to the Capital Athletic League this season, and we beat a Div. 1 team in Grant (43-12). I think we’re ahead of schedule. The guys are learning how to compete every day in the class room and in practice, too.”
Crick and receiver Trey Jones, along with Ross, know what it felt like at the sudden end of last season. Friday against Vista del Lago, Crick and Jones hooked up for a 47-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Crick would also find Mohamed Feika for a 19 yard score. Isaiah Bass had a 6-yard fumble recovery for a score. Ross was the one who popped the ball loose in the Eagles backfield.
No altitude sickness on that play.