PINOLE -- In an epic battle in awful weather, the Marin Catholic High-Kentfield football team topped El Cerrito 31-28 on Saturday night in the North Coast Section Division III championship game at Pinole Valley High.
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.
No. 1 El Cerrito (13-1) 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 as Pippins finally went down.
"We played four quarters of football and that's all I can ever ask of my team," El Cerrito coach Kenny Kahn said. "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 also completed a 14-yard pass to a leaping junior Jalen Harvey in the back of the end zone to tie the game 28-28 with 8:24 remaining.
The Gauchos failed to finish as the first unbeaten team in school history. After Benjamin was intercepted for the second time with 2:49 remaining, the Wildcats (13-1) took the victory on a six-play drive.
Neither team was able to take control of the game in the first half as the two were tied 14-14 after two quarters.
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 to tie the game.
Celis then gave the Wildcats a 14-7 lead, scoring on a 65-yard run in the second quarter. But the Gauchos responded, as Pippins scored on an 8-yard run before halftime.
The Gauchos (13-1) opened the playoffs with a 66-8 win over Kennedy-Richmond before besting Bishop O'Dowd 19-7 in the quarterfinals and pass-oriented Analy-Sebastopol 40-20 in the semifinals.