Pittsburg writes a storybook finish for retiring football coach, will play for state championship

PITTSBURG — The script is almost too good to be true, a fantasy that only happens on movie screens. But there Pittsburg coach Victor Galli was Saturday night, rising toward the sky while on the shoulders of his players as rain fell and the scoreboard glowed in the background.

In his final home game as Pittsburg’s head coach, Galli led the Pirates to one of the most special triumphs in the long and storied history of the program.

Pittsburg will finish its season — and Galli’s career — at the state championships next weekend in Mission Viejo after defeating Manteca 35-14 to capture the Northern California Division 1-A title.

On a cold and wet night, the Pirates grabbed the lead with a lightning-quick series late in the first half, widened the advantage to 20 points in the third quarter and added an exclamation in the final period with a 12-yard touchdown run by Florida-bound quarterback Jaden Rashada and the fourth fourth-down stop by the defense.

The celebration began as the defense returned to the sideline and erupted when time expired.

“I am so proud of these guys,” said Galli, the program’s coach for the past 21 years. “I thought we played our best game tonight. It’s a dream come true. Good feelings are earned. I am blessed to have a great staff and a team that is fighting and hitting stride right now.”

Pittsburg head coach Victor Galli lifts up the first place plaque after defeating Manteca during the CIF NorCal Division 1-A regional championship game at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. Pittsburg defeats Manteca 35-14. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

The 1-A state final next Saturday at Saddleback College will be a rematch of last season’s 1-A NorCal title game as Liberty-Bakersfield, playing in the South this season, advanced with a 41-28 victory over Yorba Linda.

Liberty routed Pittsburg in a regional last year in Bakersfield.

Pittsburg (12-2) wasted no time grabbing the lead Saturday, driving 49 yards on its first series for a 7-0 advantage. Rashada accounted for the touchdown on a 2-yard run up the middle.

Manteca, a running team that features Florida State commit Blake Nichelson and junior Bryson Davis, answered with a 16-play drive. Nichelson scored the touchdown on a short run and then ran in a two-point conversion to put the visitors in front 8-7.

The score stayed that way until the final seconds of the half.

Pittsburg made the first of its fourth-down stops with 38 seconds on the clock.

Rashada immediately went to work, throwing a 41-yard pass to Zack Card to the 18, clocking the ball and then connecting with Card again.

This time, the slippery receiver made a diving, slip-‘n-slide catch in the left corner of the end zone to send the Pirates into the locker room with a 14-8 lead.

“The offense was like, ‘We’ve got to score,’” Rashada said. “I think that’s why we had two big plays right there and that was great momentum going into halftime.”

The momentum did not stop after the break as Pittsburg’s offensive line, challenged by Galli during the week, opened big holes for sophomore running back Elijah Bow and the defense did not allow Manteca to get into any rhythm.

Bow’s 7-yard run up the middle stretched the lead to 21-8 with 10:37 left in the third quarter. He followed later in the quarter with a 25-yard run to the 2.

On the next snap, Bow scored again to make it 28-8 with 6:26 to go in the period.

“I was just thinking keep pushing the pedal on the metal and let’s get this dub,” Bow said. “My line was going to set the holes for me so I can run great.”

Manteca (11-2) scored its final touchdown on another marathon series. This time, the Buffaloes needed 14 plays and all but the final 43.9 seconds of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 28-14.

But on this night, Pittsburg was just too good and had too much at stake to let the advantage get any tighter.

“I am so happy,” Rashada said. “We’ve been through a lot as far as coming together as a team. Everybody had to find a way to come together. That is what I am most proud of. That’s why it means so much tonight. If we had done something like this Week 1, it wouldn’t have meant so much. We learned to come together for our coaches, the players, and that’s the result you get.”

When it ended and Pittsburg had the NorCal championship trophy in its possession, Galli huddled the players on the field amid the postgame chaos.

“I just want to say what a great journey this had been,” Galli told them. “I am glad it is not over. I thank you guys for that. It’s the last time I am walking off this field as head coach. No (BS) this week. Enjoy this one.”

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Author: Darren Sabedra