In one rain-soaked game on Nov. 6, the El Cerrito High football team claimed its first North Coast Section championship, earned some redemption and made a statement.
Using its superior speed and an inspired first-half defensive effort, the Gauchos earned a 54-38 win over defending champion Marin Catholic-Kentfield in Friday's NCS Division III title game at Burrell Field in San Leandro.
On Dec. 8, the Gauchos (12-2) were selected to compete in the California Interscholastic Federation Division III Northern California regional championship game against Sacred Heart Prep-Atherton (12-1). The game will be held at De Anza High on Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m.
In the NCS Division III championship game, UCLA-bound Adarius Pickett rushed for 255 yards and four touchdowns as El Cerrito (avenged a loss to the Wildcats from last year's section title in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
"Our seniors that graduated, we promised them that we were going to win a championship for them next year," Pickett said. "There aren't too many times where you get a rematch with the same exact team for the championship. I feel amazing right now."
El Cerrito raced out to a 41-3 lead in the third quarter before the Wildcats (12-1) rallied.
On the second play from scrimmage, Pickett took a direct snap and weaved through the Wildcats defense for a 69-yard touchdown run.
The Gauchos then relied on their defense, holding the Wildcats without a first down until the second quarter.
El Cerrito led 19-0 before Chris Hill kicked a 27-yard field goal for Marin Catholic's first points of the game just before halftime.
"We were physical on offense, we were physical on defense," El Cerrito coach Kenny Kahn said. "We were able to give (quarterback Morgan) Mahalak some trouble and (Drew) Celis, no surprise, was as incredible as ever, but ultimately we were able to shut down consistent play down the field."
El Cerrito quarterback Keilan Benjamin threw for 90 yards and three touchdowns, all to his twin brother, Keith.
Arizona State-bound Jalen Harvey added a 36-yard fumble recovery for a score for El Cerrito on Marin Catholic's first possession of the second half.
Pickett, who was recruited to UCLA as a cornerback, had another long TD run out of the wildcat formation in the third quarter to make it 48-10.
The Wildcats, who came into the game undefeated and played in last year's Division III state bowl game, got within 48-25 late in the third quarter on a one-handed touchdown grab by Nevada-bound Celis.
Mahalak, Marin Catholic's Oregon-bound quarterback, threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns, but the vast majority of his production came in the second half with the Gauchos already up big.
St. Mary's vs. Fortuna: This NCS Division IV championship game scheduled for Dec. 7 at Humboldt State University was postponed on Dec. 6 after poor road conditions prevented St. Mary's from reaching Arcata.
The game has been rescheduled for Dec. 14 at Humboldt State. The kickoff will be at 1 p.m.