Windsor will host No. 4 Benicia on Friday in 7 p.m. kickoff

The varsity football Jaguars will play for a North Coast Section Division 3 championship for the first time since 2016, advancing to the title game on Friday with an electrifying, 33-32 semifinal win over visiting El Cerrito.

The victory sets up a titanic NCS title clash pitting No. 1 Windsor (10-1) against the No. 4 seeded Benicia Panthers (9-3) at Windsor High School this Friday, Nov. 26 in a 7 p.m. kickoff. Fans are encouraged to arrive early to secure a parking spot.  It will be just the third NCS title game appearance for Windsor, which owns a 1-1 record in the previous two outings, including a 40-20 loss to Campolindo in 2016.  The Jags’ lone section championship came in 2011 with a 28-20 win over Concord. 

The Panthers, members of the Diablo-Foothill League, earned a spot in the NCS championship game by virtue of a hard-fought, 14-10 win over No. 2 seeded Las Lomas in their semi-final contest on Nov. 19.

The NCS championship clash figures to be a high-powered affair, with both teams averaging well over 40 points per game. But as championships go, the outcome will likely be decided by defense and turnovers, where the Jags have given up an average of just over 12 points per game, while the Panthers have yielded about 11.     

Windsor hangs on for victory

The Jaguars couldn’t have scripted a better start to Friday’s semifinal meeting with No. 6 seeded El Cerrito, building a seemingly comfortable, 33-7 cushion midway through the third quarter. But the Gauchos, who erased a 20-point deficit the previous week against Acalanes, would mount a tremendous comeback in exploding for the next 26 unanswered points. The game came down to the final minutes, as El Cerrito mounted a desperate drive to the Windsor 26-yard line before a Jaguar’s defensive stop on fourth and three preserved the one-point victory.   

Windsor’s defense set the tone early, as senior linebacker Cayden Homan blocked a Gaucho punt, giving the Jags the ball at the El Cerrito 10. Senior running back Damian Escarcega cashed in two plays later with a two-yard scoring burst for a 7-0 lead. The Jaguars got a defensive stop on the Gaucho’s next possession, and senior quarterback Chase Vehmeyer led a 65-yard drive resulting in another touchdown – this one on a 30-yard shovel pass to Escarcega for a 14-0 advantage. Windsor added a 27-yard field goal from kicker Flynn Stokeld to make it 17-0. The Jags led 17-7 at the break.

The carnage continued in the third quarter, as freshman defensive back Hayden Anderson blocked another Gaucho punt, resulting in a safety. El Cerrito continued to struggle against the stingy Windsor defense and Vehmeyer mounted scoring drives on the next two offensive possessions, resulting in quarterback keepers of 11 and four yards for a 33-7 cushion.

The huge lead would serve to ignite the Gaucho’s offense, which reeled off touchdown passes of 63, 67, 43 and 60 yards in an incredible four-minute span. But the Gaucho’s final score was followed by a Windsor stop on a two-point conversion try, keeping the Jaguars in the lead at 33-32.

The game came down to 1:36 left on the clock and the Gaucho at the Windsor 26 facing a fourth down and three. Not a problem, as the Jag’s defense yielded just two yards on the next play to take over on downs. With a one-point lead in his back pocket, Vehmeyer came on to take a knee to run out the clock and Windsor was on to the NCS title game. 

Vehmeyer finished up a gritty performance with seven completions on 11 pass attempts for 103 yards and one touchdown, adding 84 rushing yards and two scores. Escarcega ended with 83 yards and one score receiving, while adding 10 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Junior receiver Nicholas Fa’agata chipped in one catch for 20 yards.

Leading defenders included Homan (10 tackles, 1 assist, blocked punt), Kaeden Timmons (7 solo tackles), Conner Contreras (6 tackles, 1 assist, sack), Drew Gehrett (6 tackles, 1 assist), Anderson (4 solo tackles, blocked punt), Dom Roderick (4 solo tackles), David French (4 solo tackles), Trenton Ballard-Becker (4 solo tackles), Makhi Johnson (2 solo tackles, FR) and Escarcega (2 solo tackles, sack).  

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