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In “physical, hard-fought game,” De La Salle holds off Pittsburg for NCS Open title

DUBLIN — De La Salle captured its 30th consecutive North Coast Section championship on Friday night, but this was anything but the usual exclamation point for the Spartans.

Pittsburg made De La Salle earn this one.

When it ended, the Spartans celebrated a 30-23 victory and the section’s Open Division crown. They advance to play in a regional in two weeks.

Pittsburg will slide into the NCS’s Division I final next week against Clayton Valley, a rematch of last season’s D-I title game that Pittsburg won with backup quarterback Christian Aguilar leading the way. Aguilar now is the starting quarterback at Clayton Valley.

The winner next week also will move on to a regional.

Pittsburg (10-2) made one last attempt to win Friday, recovering a late fumble and cutting the margin to seven on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Jaden Rashada to Khai Taylor with 1:23 left.

But De La Salle (9-3) recovered the pooch kickoff near the Pittsburg sideline and ran out the clock.

“That was a physical game,” De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh said. “That was a physical, hard-fought game. Neither team played great, but both teams played really hard. The speed in that game and the hitting in that game, that looked like a championship game.”

De La Salle, which battled one injury after another all season, had finally gotten healthier down the stretch.

But the Spartans lost two senior leaders Friday, with tight end/defensive end Cooper Flanagan going down in the first half and lineman Derek Thompson getting injured in the second half. Alumbaugh said he is hopeful that both will return for the regional.

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Chase Tofaeono, who made his season debut last week after recovering from a foot injury, was a difference-maker on the defensive line Friday, constantly applying pressure on Rashada.

“Having Chase Tofaeono playing defense is certainly not a bad thing,” Alumbaugh said.

De La Salle led 16-7 at halftime and widened the advantage to 23-7 early in the third quarter on Charles Greer’s 3-yard run. The touchdown came one play after Colton Seastrand intercepted a pass and returned it 22 yards.

Pittsburg answered later in the quarter when Rashada scrambled 30 yards to the 2 and Elijah Bow ran across the goal line on the next snap. The two-point try was no good.

De La Salle went three-and-out on its next series and then shanked a punt, giving Pittsburg the ball 20 yards from another touchdown. The Pirates settled for Octavio Lopez’s 36-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 23-16 with 1:24 left in the quarter.

But just as it had when Pittsburg tightened the score in the first half, De La Salle immediately responded.

Toa Faavae threw a 13-yard pass to Journey McKoy and then ran 37 yards on an option keeper to move the ball to the Pittsburg 30.

Derrick Blanche followed with runs of 15 and 14 yards to set up Greer, who rushed in from the 1 to make it 30-16 with 11:45 to go.

That proved to be too much for Pittsburg to overcome.

“We had opportunities, for sure,” said Pittsburg coach Victor Galli, who announced this month that he will step down at the end of the season. “I was really happy with what we did defensively. It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch. But to be in this game and to have it go down to the wire was good. I love the fight in our team.

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“We’ve got to get back to work. We don’t get to rest or lick our wounds. We’ve got to get ready for a pretty big battle next week.”

Since losing to Pittsburg in an NCS final in 1991, De La Salle is 33-0 against the Pirates and 264-0-1 against NCS opponents.

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