College of San Mateo wide receiver Rajae Johnson, right, goes up for a catch earlier in the season. The freshman out of St. Louis, Missouri, has 46 catches for 1,197 yards and 13 touchdowns so far this season. TONY AVELAR photo — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP
CSM can avenge lone defeat with NorCal title
By Vytas Mazeika
SAN MATEO » If the goal is to peak come playoff time, it sure looks as if College of San Mateo accomplished the feat.
Third-ranked CSM (10-1) travel this weekend to Sacramento with a chance to advance to the state championship game. Standing in its way is No. 2 American River College (10-1), which will host theNorCal final on Saturday at 6 p.m.
It's a rematch from a Sept. 30 showdown at College Heights Stadium in which the Bulldogs missed an extra point with 62 seconds left that could've forced overtime in their only loss of the season, 21-20.
"Right now we're on the edge of the revenge factor, because we really think we let the game get away from us," said CSM wide receiver Rajae Johnson, who was held to one catch for 17 yards.
Such a performance strays from the norm when it comes to the 6-foot-4, 215-pound freshman out of St. Louis, Missouri.
In Saturday's semifinal against No. 8 College of the Siskiyous — a 52-3 rout — Johnson took home the MVP award after six catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
That included a 91-yard TD that broke the game wide open with 1:25 left in the first half to put CSM ahead 24-0 at halftime.
"In previous games sometimes I started off slow, so my coach tried to get me going early," Johnson said. "So when I caught the ball, I was like, 'I want it more.' So I had to get in the end zone."
So howexactly did a football player from more than 2,000 miles away find his way to San Mateo?
"I got referrals," said Johnson, who eventually made contact with Terry Butler, who is in charge of player development, operations and recruiting on the coaching staff at CSM. "I talked to (City) College of San Francisco, they didn't want to take me. Modesto gave me Laney's number, then Laney gave me Coach Butler's number. So I called Coach Butler and he took me in like a foster child."
Except, he is no kid, but rather a man amongst boys. Or at least that's what CSM head coach Larry Owens has been spouting.
"I tell people that all the time," Owens said. "He goes up for the ball, he's hard to tackle, he'll run over people. He's a helluva football player."
During the regular season, Johnson finished with fourth in the state with 993 yards on 40 catches and 11 touchdowns. Saturday marked his second game with over 200 yards receiving and fourth with a pair of touchdowns.
It almost doesn't matter who's throwing to him, which might be a good thing after quarterback Miles Kendrick out of Valley Christian suffered a knee injury in the second half.
He was replaced by Kamalii Akina out of St. Francis, whose father Duane is the defensive backs coach at Stanford.
"We'll see what happens later in the week and hopefully we'll figure it out," said Owens, who began the season with Akina at QB before making a switch to Kendrick during Week 4. "But I've said this all along, we have two or three quarterbacks on our roster that can win any game. And if Miles can't go, then Kamalii has to step up and come through."
How many points will the Bulldogs need to produce on offense? Not a lot if the defense can deliver an encore performance.
Only a fourth-quarter field goal kept CSM from dropping a goose egg on the scoreboard.
"We've got some really good players on defense and in this game they all connected," Owens said. "I think they realized where we're at and what the opportunities are."
One of the anchors of the defense is linebacker Colt Doughty, a 6-4, 240-pound sophomore out of Los Gatos and a verbal commit to Cal.
"Everybody is locking in, that's the way I look at it," said Doughty, who had six tackles. "And when that happens as a collective unit, good things happen. This is people knowing what their doing, trusting the coaching and everything. And that's what wins games like this."
Siskiyous (8-3) was held to 53 yards of total offense in the first half. It threatened to break the shutout on the opening possession of the third quarter, only to see defensive back Jordan Hendy out of Fremont High in Sunnyvale take a 95-yard interception to the house.
A fumble recovery inside the red zone put Siskiyous back in business late in the third quarter, but this time it was 6-3, 250-pound defensive lineman Nathan Talakai out of Sequoia with an acrobatic interception at the 8-yard line.
"That's what we've been trying to preach and trying to get to," Owens said. "It's to play a full game at a high level and make plays."
"Spectacular plays come, but I don't think we rely on that — it's what makes us strong," Doughty said. "I think it's so hard to drive the field on us, especially when you get close because you can't take shots anymore. And when we get down there and our backs are against the wall, even if they're close, we're at our toughest."
If extramotivation is necessary to reach the state championship for the first time since 2009, it's clear the Bulldogs are rallying around their coach, who already announced plans to retire after the season ends.
"Coach Owens has been preaching that he's wanted to get us past the first round the whole time," Johnson said. "We have a point to prove. We want him to get a ring, we're trying to get a ring."
"They're making me work a little bit longer and overtime, but that's OK," Owens said. "That's a good thing. I don't mind working. The kids are proud of themselves, I like the way they've been doing the last few weeks. And with all the sacrifices that they're making, I canmake the sacrifice to keep this thing going."
CSM could've hosted the NorCal championship if American River had lost to No. 5 Laney (9-2), which instead was defeated 41-35.
Now, this is a chance to fix what went wrong almost two months. But after 21 years in two different stints at CSM, you won't get Owens to admit it, at least not to the media.
"It's a blessing to be in the game," Owens said. "It doesn't matter who we play or where we play, we're just real happy to have the opportunity to be in there. We'll see what we do." Contact Vytas Mazeika at 650- 391-1329.
"Weh aveap oint top rove. We want himtoget a ring, w e're trying tog et a ring."
— College of San Mateo wide receiver Rajae Johnson, speaking about head coach Larry Owens, who already announced his plans to retire after the season