Two teams’ seasons came down to their abilities to execute on fourth down. Coolidge and Winslow had similar offensive yardage totals Saturday — 381 for Coolidge to Winslow’s 357 — but three fourth-down plays by the Bears were the main reasons they won their first state football championship in 21 years.
Coolidge defensive players twice sacked Winslow quarterback Jordan Payne on fourth downs.
The Bears also had a 29-yard pass on a fake punt to extend a would-be scoring drive as Coolidge won its first championship since 1984, beating Winslow 34-19 in the 3A title game at McClintock High School.
The Bears lost a 25-24 heartbreaker to Lakeside Blue Ridge in last year’s title game.
"Our defense has been the backbone of our team the whole season," Coolidge coach Carlo Hernandez said of his team’s fourth-down sacks.
"Our team feeds off emotion and that just happened to continue tonight. Offense feeds off defense, defense feeds off offense."
Trailing 14-7 late in the second quarter, Winslow had an opportunity to tie the score. The Bulldogs started at the Coolidge 33-yard line after a blocked
punt and moved the ball to the 12-yard line on third down needing 2 yards for a first.
The Bears stuffed Winslow running back Mark Armao for a 2-yard loss. Facing what could have been a 29-yard field goal, the Bulldogs instead tried for a first down and defensive end Shavar McKaney sacked Payne to turn the ball over to Coolidge (12-1).
Then, on the opening drive of the third quarter, Winslow threatened again, moving the ball to the Coolidge 13 after a 30-yard run by Armao. After being stuffed on two rushing attempts, the Bulldogs called a pass on third down but Coolidge linebacker Jovante Waggoner blitzed and came untouched to sack Payne for an 8-yard loss.
"At that time, they weren’t picking up the blitzes," Hernandez said, "and Jovante, if that kid comes untouched, he’s going to make the play."
On fourth down, instead of a 37-yard field goal attempt, Winslow (12-2) went for it again and Waggoner came bursting through the middle of the line again for a sack and a turnover on downs.
"They blitzed the entire world at us," Winslow coach Adam Larsen said. "That was a tough thing, them blitzing at us."
The Coolidge offense then took over. The Bears scored touchdowns on their next two drives, including a 19-yard scoring reception by tight end Brad Jackson that was set up by a fake punt three plays earlier.
Facing fourth-and-five from the Winslow 42-yard line, Jesse Wheeler lined up to punt. Instead, he hit wide receiver Aaron Jones, who had his only catch of the game, a 29-yard reception that continued the drive.
"I was ecstatic when that happened. Coach called a good play," Jones said. "We set them up really nice on that. I was sitting there hitting my helmet, saying, ‘Come on, I’m open.’ He threw a nice pass."
Running back Jaime Cassillas had 15 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown for Coolidge. Wheeler ran for 92 yards and a TD, threw for another score and also returned a fumble recovery 85 yards for a score.