Given the suspension of athletics in the county, the Daily Journal decided to dive into our 20-year archives to bring readers some of our favorite stories over the years.

NOV. 23, 2009 — There comes a time in every game — it can be a moment that defines a season — when a play just has to be made.

Enter Ashanti Watson.

With his College of San Mateo football team clinging to a precarious four-point lead against a Reedley squad driving in for the potential game-winning score late in the fourth quarter, the sophomore outside linebacker returned an interception — CSM’s third of the day — 76 yards for a touchdown to seal the host Bulldogs’ 31-20 win in the 2009 Bulldog Bowl, which also served as the Northern California championship game.

“It was a dream come true,” said Watson, who picked a good time to come up with his first interception of his college career. “I was just reading the quarterback’s eyes and once I started running no one could catch me. As I was heading to the end zone, I didn’t know if it was real or if I was just knocked out and imagining this.”

Reality was better than a dream for CSM (10-1), which advances to its first-ever state title game, when it will host the as-to-be-yet determined Southern California champion. The Bulldogs might not have gotten there had it not been for Watson, whose touchdown occurred with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in the game to account for the final margin.

Reedley (6-5) had a second-and-9 from the CSM 27-yard line when Watson picked off a Jesse Lownsbury pass at his 24 in the middle of the field. From there Watson took off to the right sideline and had a couple of teammates as an escort en route to the end zone.

The electrifying play put a exclamation point on a bruising, white-knuckle, mano-a-mano contest that featured three ties and four lead changes.

The Bulldogs aren’t used to being involved in games that go down to the wire — they suffered a one-point loss to Foothill and beat City College of San Francisco by six — but impressively trampled the rest of their competition by an average score of 48-19.

“This one we had to scratch and claw for,” CSM coach Bret Pollack said.

Indeed, Valley Conference champion Reedley proved tough to the end. The Tigers held the Bulldogs to a season-low 132 yards rushing, making CSM’s task all the more tougher. But the Bulldogs showed their mettle, coming up with just enough plays in the crucible of a championship game.

“It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective,” Pollack said. “We did what we had to do to win the football game. You have to adjust, adapt, and that’s why we’re a great football team.”

With their vaunted ground game being shut down, the Bulldogs had to dig deep and basically will themselves to victory. Quarterback Matt Pelesasa was vital to CSM’s success, completing 14-of-27 passes for 209 yards, including touchdown throws of 35, 10 and 19 yards.

The last two he connected with offensive player of the game John Webster (five receptions, 57 yards), who made several acrobatic grabs, none better than his leaping 10-yard TD catch in the right back corner of the end zone over a Reedley defender who was in perfect position to at least knock the ball down.

But the 6-2, 200-pound Webster had a considerable size advantage on the defender and simply made the play in what amounted to be a jump ball. The catch gave CSM a 17-10 lead with 21 seconds left until halftime. One play earlier, Pelesasa hooked up with Rahsaan Vaughn (three catches, 74 yards) for a 36-yard gain to set up the score.

But the Bulldogs had to survive a game effort from the Tigers, who scored on the game’s opening drive of the second half and then put the clamps on defensively. Reedley held CSM to without a point in the third, just the fourth time all season the Bulldogs were held scoreless in a quarter.

Fortunately for CSM, its defense was up to the task. After tying things up, the Tigers couldn’t generate anything offensively until it was too late. The Bulldogs finally broke their second-half scoring drought with 8:51 to play, when Pelesasa hit Webster for a 19-yard TD.

It was another superb effort from Webster, who was grappling with the Reedley defender the whole way yet still made the catch under heavy duress. Key plays on the drive included a diving 29-yard catch from Vaughn — who also displayed tremendous athleticism and focus with a couple of highlight-reel catches — and a 10-yard scramble from Pelesasa on a third-and-7 from the Reedley 29.

The Tigers answered on the ensuing series with a field goal to cut their deficit to four, and after forcing CSM to punt they got the ball back at the Bulldogs’ 43 with 2:46 left and two timeouts remaining.

In other words, they had an eternity for a potential game-winning drive. Reedley didn’t waste much time marching down the field, as Lownsbury completed passes of 7 and 10 yards. After a run play netted a loss of a yard, the Tigers had a second-and-9 from the 27 when Watson came up with the biggest play of his life. Pelesasa said his team received a little divine intervention.

“(Before the ball was snapped) I was kneeling down on the sideline praying to God,” he said. “And he answered our prayer. Ashanti and the defense definitely sealed the deal. When he made that play, all the emotions came out. I feel like I’m on Cloud Nine. I’m going to have to come down eventually, but this feeling is going to last for a while. It feels wonderful.”

Pelesasa has been vital to CSM’s success this season. Pollack has praised the signal caller’s decision making, and the numbers don’t lie. The Bulldogs are ranked second in the state in turnover margin, and as the quarterback Pelesasa plays a major role in ball protection.

The sophomore out of Woodside High has 24 touchdown passes to only three interceptions while averaging a robust 16.5 yards per completion. Against Reedley, Pelesasa (team-high 62 yards rushing on 11 carries) picked up some critical first downs on scrambles, as often times he went back to pass and no one was open.

But Pelesasa — just like many of his teammates all year — found a way to make a play. That’s what separates the potentially great teams from the merely good ones, and that’s why the Bulldogs are one win away from immortality — they have a number of players who have come up big in the critical moments. Watson said making plays are nothing special — it’s expected of everyone, especially the defense.

“We pride ourselves on being a defensive team,” he said. “We know it’s on our shoulders, and we want the responsibility to win the game. We trust all of our players to make a play. Our coaches put us in a position to make plays, and that’s exactly what I did. When I picked off that pass, it felt like I was in a dream.”

He was. Living one.

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