Playing a day after learning that its coach, Mark Kessler, was fired for undisclosed reasons, the San Ramon Valley High football team advanced to the second round of the North Coast Section Division I playoffs Saturday with a 42-24 win over San Leandro at Burrell Field.
Kessler was replaced by Wolves offensive coordinator Aaron Becker, who served as interim coach for the game against 11th-seeded San Leandro (6-5).
In the game, Matt Winaker's 70-yard touchdown pass to Wade Wilson to begin the second half broke a 21-21 tie and sent the visiting Wolves on the path to victory. The play was one of five touchdown passes thrown by Winaker, who finished with 324 yards through the air.
Marcus de la Peña was the main force on the ground for the Wolves (7-4) with 96 yards rushing and one touchdown.
The No. 6-seeded Wolves (7-4) will play at No. 3 California in the quarterfinals next Saturday. San Ramon Valley finished second to California in the East Bay Athletic League this season with a 5-1 record.
"They had some ups and downs in the game, but they competed, they competed hard," Becker said. "They wanted to play one more week, and now they get that opportunity."
San Ramon Valley players learned of the coaching change during a team meeting Friday after school, sources said. No further details or reasons for Kessler's dismissal were available as of Saturday evening. Reached at Saturday's game, San Ramon Valley athletic director John Raynor would not comment further on the firing.
Kessler did not return a message seeking comment. A post Saturday from his Twitter account read, "Go Wolves, adversity is like the wind, sometimes in your face, and sometimes at your back: but always blowing!"
San Leandro (6-5) tried to take control early on its home field as a 2-yard run by O'Brien Younger gave the Pirates a 7-0 lead with 3:30 seconds left in the first quarter. But the Wolves always had an answer.
De la Peña's 1-yard run tied the game with 41 second left in the quarter. Each team added two more touchdowns in the second quarter, though the Wolves never led until Winaker connected with Wilson on the first scrimmage play of the second half.
"We just did what we did all season," Winaker said, "That's rally together as a group and keep fighting through adversity."
Stephen Johnson threw for 186 yards for San Leandro, but was hurt late in the first half and played only on his team's first offensive series in the second.
Correspondent Mike McGreehan contributed to this story.