JOHNSTOWN - For a second straight playoff game, Coronado produced a lackluster start. But once again, the Cougars found a way to regroup, respond and rally to continue their season for the ages.
Austin Micci ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns, Sam Smith returned a short kickoff for a score heading into halftime, and Coronado held off a late Roosevelt comeback attempt for a 29-27 victory in a 3A quarterfinal game Saturday at Roosevelt High School.
Junior York's lunging interception as he tumbled into the end zone preserved the victory as the Cougars (11-1) set a school record for victories in a season. They'll play another local team having a record-breaking season, The Classical Academy (10-2), in the 3A semifinals.
On Nov. 9, Coronado fell behind 17-0 to Rifle, came back to take the lead late, then leaned on its defense for a late interception to clinch the win. Against Roosevelt, the Cougars followed nearly the same script.
"Our team isn't a first-quarter type," said Cougars lineman Joseph Hunt, whose blocked punt out of the end zone with 6:39 left in the third quarter provided the eventual margin of victory. "We came back at Rifle, and we just came back here. We don't get down on each other. We pick each other up and get back on the field."
Roosevelt (8-3) had to run only seven plays to take a quick 14-0 lead. Randolph Molinar burst up the middle for a 19-yard score to break the ice on the game's opening drive.
Then, three plays after Cougars running back Isaiah Duvall fumbled a pitch on their first play from scrimmage, Molinar doubled the lead with a 9-yard toss sweep to the right corner.
Down 14-7 after a short Micci run capitalized on a Roosevelt turnover, Coronado continued to chip away. A short touchdown run from Zeb Foster, sandwiched around two field goals from Riders kicker Lincoln Schultz, brought the Cougars to within 20-14 with just five seconds left in the first half.
Smith gave the Cougars the lead for good when a low, bouncing kickoff headed his way. The Coronado junior fielded the kick and found a seam up the middle, then found open space after breaking a tackle just short of midfield. He dived into the end zone with no time remaining and the Cougars had all the momentum.
"It definitely brought a little more momentum to our side," Smith said. "We came out more confident in the second half. I had a feeling they'd squib the kickoff, and when it came to me, I just thought I'd see what I could make of it. I just didn't want to get caught."
Micci helped make sure Coronado stayed in front with his 64-yard sprint on a toss to the right on the Cougars' first drive of the second half. Later in the quarter, Hunt blocked Zacharie Courrejou's punt out of the end zone for a safety that increased the lead to 29-20.
And although the Riders sliced the deficit to two points on a 6-yard touchdown run by Alize Garcia with 4:30 left, the Cougars came up with another big defensive play late when York intercepted a pass thrown by Kane Kratz with 57 seconds left.
"I honestly thought they'd keep running the ball," York said. "I had inside position and saw the ball in the air. I knew in my mind I was going to get it. It was perfect."
It was the perfect ending on a day that didn't start so well.
"It bit us in the butt in the first quarter again, but the kids continued to battle no matter what the score was," Cougars coach Bobby Lizarraga said. "They're not used to being in this environment, and it takes us a little longer to settle in. Once they settle in, they shine."