PINOLE — In an epic battle in awful weather, the Marin Catholic High-Kentfield football team topped El Cerrito 31-28 on Dec. 1 in the North Coast Section Division III championship game at Pinole Valley.
The No. 2 seeded Wildcats (13-1) prevailed on a Chris Hill 27-yard field goal with 22.2 seconds remaining, breaking a 28-28 tie.
El Cerrito (13-1), the No. 1 seed, gave a spirited battle in the back-and-forth contest from the first play to the last. In fact Gauchos star Marcellus Pippins was dragged down on the game's final play on a 40-yard reception from quarterback Keilan Benjamin as time expired. Marin Catholic players charged out onto the field.
The Gauchos were attempting to be the first unbeaten team in school history.
"We played four quarters of football and that's all I can ever ask of my team," said El Cerrito coach Kenny Kahn, a member of the 1998 El Cerrito team that fell to Kenny Dorsey-led Miramonte in the NCS 2A final. "They played tough. They played through some crazy adversity in terms of weather. We were playing an excellent team in Marin Catholic.
"Win or lose, my guys gave everything they had."
The Gauchos got a brilliant effort from Benjamin, who scored on runs of 11 yards and 60 yards. He completed a 14-yard pass to a leaping Jalen Harvey in the back of the end zone with 8:24 remaining as El Cerrito tied the game at 28.
After Benjamin was intercepted for the second time with 2:49 remaining, the Wildcats took the victory on a six-play drive.
Cal-bound Marin Catholic quarterback Jared Goff passed for just 110 yards against the vaunted Gauchos' secondary. But Goff ran for 77 yards, including a 30-yard score to give his team a 28-21 lead with 11:32 remaining.
After Marin Catholic, which won its ninth section title, recovered a Benjamin fumble, it went ahead 21-14 on a 1-yard run by Akili Terry (124 yards rushing) in the third quarter. Benjamin, who ran for 136 yards, then broke free for a 60-yard touchdown run and the game was tied at 21.
Benjamin scored on an 11-yard run to give El Cerrito a 7-0 lead on its first possession of the game. But Marin Catholic responded on the ensuing drive, as Andrew Celis scored on a 3-yard run. He then gave the Wildcats a touchdown lead, scoring on a 65-yard run in the second quarter. But the Gauchos responded on an 8-yard run by Pippins before halftime.
The Gauchos opened the playoffs with a 66-8 victory over Kennedy-Fremont before defeating Bishop O'Dowd 19-7 in the quarterfinals and pass-oriented Analy-Sebastopol 40-20 in the semifinals.