Berkeley comes back to beat
El Cerrito, get Bissell’s first win
At the end of every third quarter, a Berkeley High football coach asks his team what quarter is coming up. The players respond by screaming “Jackets’ quarter! Jackets quarter!” And on Friday at El Cerrito High, the players were finally right.
Coming off of three straight blowout losses to start the season, the Yellowjackets finally got into the win column on Friday, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win, 32-29, in the ACCAL opener for both teams. Running back Roger Mason’s 20-yard touchdown run with 5:44 left in the game was the difference, and highlighted just how talented the Berkeley squad is: Mason is the ’Jackets’ fourth-string tailback.
“That run let me know that no matter who’s in the game, we can produce,” Berkeley defensive end Akeem Brown said of Mason’s run, during which he broke three tackles and dragged two defenders into the end zone. “We finally gave the offense the ball, and they put it in the end zone a bunch of times.”
Five times, to be exact, which was unexpected considering Berkeley (1-3, 1-0 ACCAL) had scored just two touchdowns in their first three games. The ’Jackets exploded with a balanced offense, gaining 276 yards on the ground and 201 passing yards. Starting tailback Germaine Baird rumbled for 106 rushing yards, backup Aaron Boatwright gained 47, and seldom-used Craig Hollis picked up 61 yards on just seven carries, all in the second half.
Fullback Nick Schooler also pitched in with 25 yards on the ground, but showed amazing versatility as he also made big contributions in the passing game as well as on defense and special teams. With the ’Jackets down 15-6 and on the El Cerrito 11-yard line, quarterback Raymond Pinkston dropped back to pass and was nearly sacked, just managing to dump the ball off to Schooler well behind the line of scrimmage. Schooler shook off the first two tacklers, then broke left, picking up a block from Baird and racing to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown with just 23 seconds left in the half.
“There was nothing there, so I just headed towards my blockers,” Schooler said.
After Mason’s touchdown put Berkeley ahead, Schooler came to the rescue on defense, picking off a Randy Gatewood pass with 4:40 left in the game. And when El Cerrito stopped the ’Jackets and forced a punt from midfield, it was Schooler who took the ball with starting punter Jason Goodwin on the sideline with an arm injury. Schooler’s line-drive punt drove the Gauchos back to their own 12.
El Cerrito managed to get the ball to the Berkeley 27-yard line with four seconds left in regulation, but another Berkeley senior came through when it counted. Lineman Matt Toma, who missed last week’s loss to Dos Palos with a hip pointer, didn’t play on defense until the final play of the game, as the Berkeley coaches wanted him rested for offense. But Toma convinced them to put him in for the final play, then broke through and dragged down Gatewood to end the game.
“I was doing anything I could to get on the field for that last play,” Toma said. “That was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had.”
The ’Jackets were almost done in early by mistakes on special teams. El Cerrito took a 15-0 lead in the first quarter by taking advantage of a Lee Franklin punt fumble, then smothering Goodwin on the Berkeley five-yard line after he fumbled a snap.
Although Goodwin reeled in a 26-yard touchdown catch before Schooler’s score, the ’Jackets were still down 15-12 heading into the second half even though the defense had allowed just 86 total yards. Then came the runback that should have broken the game wide open, as El Cerrito’s John Norman took the opening kickoff back 82 yards for a touchdown and a 22-12 Gaucho lead.
But unlike the three previous games, the ’Jackets didn’t drop their heads and give up. Pinkston answered right back with a 55-yard bomb to wide receiver Sean Young for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 22-18. And after El Cerrito running back Jamonte Cox rinally broke through for a 63-yard run that led to another Gaucho touchdown that put his team up 29-18, Berkeley still refused to go away. Pinkston went back to Young, this time hitting him for a 32-yard gain that put the ’Jackets on the El Cerrito three-yard line. Two plays later Baird dove into the end zone from two yards out, setting the stage for Mason’s final score.
The ’Jackets piled up 477 yards to El Cerrito’s 262, dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides. Their turnovers kept them from dominating the scoreboard, but head coach Matt Bissell was encouraged by his team’s heart.
“This is the first time that we’ve made mistakes early and came back from them,” said Bissell, who picked up his first varsity win. “It’s very good to see us not give up when we get down.”