When the Los Gatos High football team beat Wilcox 24-21 on Oct. 27 in the penultimate game of the regular-season, the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division championship was on the line.
Now, another—perhaps even greater—prize is at stake when the two rivals match up again, this time in the Central Coast Section Division I championship game on Nov. 24 at San Jose City College at 7pm. The winner not only earns D-I section bragging rights but qualifies for a CIF Regional Championship Bowl Game.
Los Gatos (10-2) reached the D-I final with another riveting playoff win over a West Catholic Athletic League school, edging host St. Ignatius, 21-17, in the semifinals on Nov. 17. Wilcox (8-4) lost to the juggernaut Serra of San Mateo team in the Open Division title game, thereby putting it in the D-I championship contest.
Perhaps in part to the new format this year for CIF Bowl Games in which only section division champions can be selected, the CCS changed its Open/D-I playoff format where the Open runner-up would automatically be placed in a game against the lone remaining D-I team to determine the D-I champion.
The Wildcats’ back-to-back victories over WCAL schools has made this year’s postseason run all the more stirring. In each of the previous two seasons, Los Gatos had its season end in heartbreaking fashion to WCAL teams.
“It just proves you don’t need to have a scholarship to play high school football,” senior quarterback AJ Minyard said a day after the game. “You can go to a public school and have just as much success if not more.”
The Wildcats made key plays in crucial moments against SI, none bigger than a fake punt on fourth down midway through the fourth quarter. Multi-pronged threat Jaylen Thomas rolled out and completed a pass to Boxer Kopcsak-Yeung for a gain of over 10 yards and a first down.
The Los Gatos coaching staff did such a great job of disguising their play call that not even Minyard knew the fake was coming.
“To be honest, I had no clue we were running that play,” he said. “I was ready to trust my defense to take us home. I liked the play call, obviously. It worked and helped us shut the game down.”
Los Gatos accumulated additional first downs after that and was able to take a couple of knees to ice the game. Talk about a sweet way to end things. Minyard, who had a 35-yard touchdown pass to Thomas a couple of minutes into the third quarter, was most impressed with the team’s tenaciousness.
The defense made some big plays, with Andrew Sandoval tracking down a SI runner to snuff out a fake punt and force a turnover on downs.
“Just how hard we fought,” he said. “That whole game, I admit, wasn’t my best performance and it wasn’t our team’s best performance. But our offense was still rolling, our defense was still tenacious, we played hard, we played fast and hit hard as well. On that spectrum, we had an A-plus in physicality.”
Kopcsak-Yeung opened the game’s scoring with a 36-yard rushing TD midway through the first quarter. SI scored two unanswered TDs to take a 14-7 lead into halftime. But it was all Los Gatos in the third quarter. After Minyard’s TD pass to Thomas, Kopcsak-Yeung had a 4-yard rushing TD later in the third to give Los Gatos a 21-14 lead it would never relinquish.
SI converted a field goal near the end of the third quarter, accounting for the final points of the game. Not surprisingly, Minyard said the bus ride home from San Francisco was a special one.
“I don’t know how to explain it. Just a bunch of guys being guys. That was a really together moment for us,” Minyard said. “Brothers you can say. I’m still flying high right now.”
Now it’s onto CCS championship weekend and a familiar foe in Wilcox, which has been the Wildcats’ chief competition in the SCVAL De Anza Division and now in the PAL Bay Division. Minyard said there’s great respect for Wilcox but he’s confident Los Gatos will have all the answers in the rematch.
“We just have to play our game,” he said. “I think we just need to do what we did against Riordan and SI and even against Wilcox the game before. Play hard, play physical, fast, obviously trust our coaches. Just need to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers like Jaylen, Boxer, and our tight end Owen [Panu] has been showing out. And just keep trusting our offensive line. This is probably the best O-line we’ve had in a long time and we’re just going to keep rolling with those guys. They’re giving me a lot of time getting the ball out.”
The rematch with Wilcox carries a lot of meaning. The Chargers delivered perhaps the most stunning result in this year’s CCS playoffs, whipping No. 2 seed St. Francis 52-28 in the opening round. What makes the Los Gatos-Wilcox rivalry special and perhaps the best in the CCS is the recent history.
For the last 11 years, the Wildcats and Chargers—along with Milpitas High for the first half of the run—have been duking it out for league supremacy.
“Every Los Gatos player takes the game vs. Wilcox to heart,” Minyard said. “We have older brothers who hated losing to them or if they didn’t lose to them, loved beating them. It’s a great rivalry for sure.”