It's been a long, wild ride for the Campolindo High football team, and the Cougars weren't about to let it end Saturday.
Faced with a hard-hitting, tenacious opponent in Bishop O'Dowd, No. 3 seed Campolindo made the big plays when it needed them to beat the No. 6 Dragons 34-17 in a North Coast Section Division III quarterfinal in Moraga.
With injuries draining the running backs, quarterback Brett Stephens was called on to do even more for Campolindo (12-0). He responded in a big way, passing for 188 yards, rushing for 88 and, perhaps most important, continuously popping back up after huge hits from Bishop O'Dowd.
"I'll feel them tomorrow, but in the moment it's not too bad," Stephens said. "They had some unbelievable players. Hardy Nickerson (Jr.) is probably the best player I've ever played against. I'm just glad we kept fighting all night long."
Bishop O'Dowd (9-3) was more than game in defeat. The Dragons ran off a seven-play, 62-yard drive in just 45 seconds at the end of the first half, with a 2-yard run by Nickerson closing the score to 20-17 at halftime.
But Campolindo's defense stiffened in the second half. Griffin Piatt intercepted two passes, and the Cougars kept Bishop O'Dowd off the board after halftime. Jamie Vega added touchdown runs of 7 yards and 1 yard to ice the victory.
Next up for Campolindo is No. 2 Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa (11-0-1). That game is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at Cardinal Newman.
The Cougars have been experiencing a dream year, going 10-0 in the regular season and winning the Diablo Foothill Athletic League title. Campolindo opened the NCS playoffs last week with a 58-21 win over Hercules.
Bishop O'Dowd entered Saturday on a nine-game winning streak.