MORAGA -- After Campolindo High and El Cerrito traded touchdowns in the first half, the Cougars limited the Gauchos to a lone touchdown in the second half and pulled away for a 42-27 nonleague victory Friday night in a game between two of the best Division III teams in the North Coast Section.
Clinging to a 35-27 lead with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Cougars' Andrew Zolintakis found Tyler Petite for a 47-yard gain on third-and-4, which set up Connor McNally's game-clinching 6-yard touchdown run.
"We just have to credit our defense tonight," Campolindo coach Kevin Macy said. "El Cerrito has too many weapons on the field at the same time, and we had to limit them on offense and special teams. That was the key tonight."
The Cougars defense had Gauchos quarterback Keilan Benjamin on the run throughout the night and shut down his prime offensive weapons in Adarius Pickett (six catches, 58 yards) and Jalen Harvey (one catch, 22 yards).
Campolindo (4-0) scored within the first minute of the contest on a Nick Fadelli run after capitalizing on a Harvey fumble on the game's opening kickoff. The Gauchos (2-2) came right back to tie the score on an 11-yard run by Pickett.
Pickett's 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown tied the score at 21-21 with 6:52 left in the second quarter, but the Cougars scored with 40 seconds left in the half on a pass from Zolintakis to Phillip Rei for a 28-21 lead at the half.
Zolintakis threw for 305 yards and three scores, with Rei hauling in seven passes for 164 yards and three scores.
The series between the Gauchos and the Cougars has developed into one of the better Division III rivalries in the East Bay, with three of the past four meetings decided by three points or less. El Cerrito beat Campolindo 16-14 last year in what was its closest regular-season nonleague game. Campolindo won 16-13 in 2011 and 34-13 in 2010, and El Cerrito won 30-28 in 2009.
Campolindo begins defense of its Diablo Foothill Athletic League title next Friday at undefeated Acalanes. El Cerrito also starts league play next Friday, as it hosts Valley Christian-Dublin in the Tri-County Athletic League-Rock Division opener for both teams.