East County Sports

Cougars’ first-ever title is hard-earned


Steele Canyon’s KENNETH WATSON and DEONTAE MCKINNEY get up for a celebration. / photo by Tammy Ryan – TRyan Photography





By Ramon Scott



CHULA VISTA – The Steele Canyon Cougars didn’t need a special invitation to the San Diego CIF Division II championship game.

The seventh-seeded Cougars were billed as Cinderellas this postseason but wound up earning the hardware with four-straight wins, including a 33-29 win over the undefeated and top-seeded Ramona Bulldogs at DeVore Stadium on Saturday.

It is the first section football championship for the Cougars as the “newest” school in the Grossmont Union district, which opened in 2000.

The Cougars look to get out of trouble Saturday night. / photo by Tammy Ryan – TRyan Photography

To do it, the Cougars had to knock off the top-two seeds in consecutive weeks.

And consider, a large swath of the Ramona community made the trek to Chula Vista.

“This crowd was crazy tonight,” Steele Canyon coach SCOTT LONGERBONE said. “It was a lot of fun.”

The computer rankings used by the section to seed teams also spits out projections. But the Cougars paid them no mind. Anyone who witnessed Saturday’s win by SC would be hard-pressed to believe the thing had them as two-touchdown underdogs.

The game played like a toss-up early.

Steele Canyon senior THOMAS FISHBURNE had over 300 yards of total offense on the afternoon and the Cougar defense made big plays despite the 29 points scored by the Bulldogs.

“I just felt like since we’ve been in these tight games all season and Ramona hasn’t, that would be an advantage for us,” Fishburne said.

Fishburne threw for two scores and ran for another. And his boot put the game nearly on ice with a cool punt down to the 3 with 21 seconds left.

Ramona was allowing 10 points per game this season, but Steele Canyon’s total was the most allowed by the Bulldogs all season.

Ramona scored on opening drive with a Tristan Stacy 9-yard run on a reverse.

After a big run by Fishburne, receiver JORDAN ANDERSON was stripped after he found some running room heading inside the 10 following a catch, as Ramona recovered the fumble

Anderson made up for it, however, just a few minutes later with one of his patented long TD receptions, as he caught a deep pass from Fishburne inside the 10-yard line and scored the touchdown with 1:13 left in the first quarter to tie the game, 7-all.

The Bulldogs got a TD run for a 14-7 lead with 9:03 left in the second quarter.

Another nice scramble by Fishburne set up a touchdown for Steele Canyon midway through the second quarter.

Steele Canyon’s KENNETH WATSON caught a short screen pass to the left after he found himself wide open out of the backfield as the play design had the Bulldogs committing the wrong way for a 22-yard score on third-and-four with 6:03 left in the first half.

Stacy, however, caught a 55-yard touchdown pass to give the Bulldogs at 21-14 lead with 5:10 remaining in the first half.

The Cougars tied the game on a short touchdown run by DEONTAE MCKINNEY late in the first half to build confidence heading into the locker room despite being only tied with Ramona at 21-apiece.

Steele Canyon opened the third quarter with another scoring drive, getting on the board with a field goal to take their first lead of the game 24-21 with 8:12 left in the third quarter. JOHN LAUTNER with a 36-yarder saied through hard, low and direct.

The Cougars stripped a Bulldog of the ball and recovered at their own 31. ALEXANDER ATHERTON and PERRY STEELE both took jabs, then Atherton recovered the ball when it was jarred loose. It was the first forced turnover of the night for SC.

Steele Canyon’s MIKEL OLIVER (7) and the Cougars surround a ball carrier. / photo by Tammy Ryan – TRyan Photography

The Cougars got a deep ball to Steele to the 19-yard line midway through the third quarter, however, Ramona got a fourth down stop at the 10.

The Cougars got a big stop to open the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-2, as the Cougars smacked the pressured QB and recovered a fumble.

After Fishburne threw an interception putting the Bulldogs at the 1, the Cougars got maybe even a bigger play, recording a safety led by MIKEL OLIVER with 6:14 left in the game on a smashing tackle.

“They shifted to their big package and we knew right away we blitz on that,” Oliver said. “We call that play ‘crazy’ for a reason, they want me back there iso-ing.

“I saw an opening, they weren’t touching me. I went back there, hit him as hard as I could and met him back in the backfield.”

Steele upped the advantage to 33-21 when they drove 59 yards following the free kick, as Fishburne and McKinney both had 26-yard runs.

Fishburne’s scored his rushing TD from the 1 to cap the drive.

For the Cougars, playing in the clutch came from their regular season experiences.

Some resulted in victories, some in defeats, but Steele played in many close games throughout the campaign.

“That’s how we played all season,” Longerbone said. “At halftime, we talked about how they haven’t played many close games, and nearly every game we’ve played has been close. We’re used to that kind of ballgame.”

The Bulldogs scored a touchdown with 1:20, and added a two-point conversion, but a subsequent onside kick was recovered by the Bulldogs. However, the Bulldogs were offside.

Another try was short of 10 yards and was recovered by the Cougars anyway.

Steele Canyon stops Ramona in the San Diego CIF Division 2 championship. / photo by Tammy Ryan – TRyan Photography

Also coming up big several times on the defensive side for Steele Canyon were ROBERT WHITEHEAD, BILLY TELLOUS and DARIN WALTON.

Whitehead had a particularly fiery matchup with Stacy all afternoon.

“It was an amazing game,” Oliver said. “We knew we were going to hit them in the mouth as hard as anyone ever has.”

Now the Cougars advance to a possible regional game in Division 2A. There, they’ll have nothing to lose, either, just like this long-awaited run on Campo Road.

“We were just so loose before the game and even during the game (tonight),” Longerbone said. “We’re the seventh seed. Nobody expected us to even be here, let alone win.”


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