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Backup Quarterback Christian Aguilar Shines As Pittsburg Football Tops Clayton Valley In North Coast Section Div. I Final •  Victor Galli and the Pittsburg... Pirates’ Gold | Pittsburg Treasures Its First NCS Title In 30 Years

Backup Quarterback Christian Aguilar Shines As Pittsburg Football Tops Clayton Valley In North Coast Section Div. I Final • 

Victor Galli and the Pittsburg High football program didn’t need a North Coast Section title to validate two decades of success on School Street.

But in the moments after a 28-14 win over Clayton Valley Charter-Concord in the NCS Division 1 championship, the sense of community that has always made up the backbone of Pittsburg football moved to the forefront. Generations of Pirates filed out of Pirate Stadium together, families celebrated together, and one of Northern California’s premier venues for high school football felt more like one big high school reunion than anything else.

Maybe that’s because while Galli has carried many an NCS banner back to his office, this one felt – and looked – different.

This one had “first place” written down the side.

“First time in my 20 years. It feels great. It’s just a testament to my great coaching staff and crew,” Galli said. “The players were really hungry tonight. Who knows, they could’ve come out flat tonight after last week’s second half. I’m proud. I’m proud of the way the guys fought.”

It has been 30 years since Pittsburg’s last section title in football. Anyone who follows NCS football knows the reason why. 

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But as the section continues to search for the best way to account for De La Salle-Concord’s dominance among larger schools, this year the Pirates got their own shot at the title thanks to a revamped playoff bracket. A loss to the Spartans in the Open Division final one week earlier meant another date with an old foe, the Ugly Eagles, but this time it would be within the friendly confines of Pirate Stadium.

Even as a second chance presented itself, what would a good story be without a twist? For the Pirates, that curve ball came at quarterback. Heralded signal-caller Jaden Rashada aggravated a prior leg injury in the De La Salle game, leaving him unavailable against the Ugly Eagles. 

In stepped fellow junior Christian Aguilar to make his first varsity start with the Pirates’ season on the line.

Christian Aguilar, Pittsburg, Football
Christian Aguilar (2) sits in the team room prior to making his first varsity start in the NCS Division I final. (Ben Enos photos)

Aguilar was ready for his chance. He connected with Rashid Williams for Pittsburg’s first touchdown, a 16-yard strike, then found Williams again for a 23-yard score that left the Pirates up 14-6 at halftime.

After holding Clayton Valley Charter without points on the opening drive of the second half, Aguilar gave the Pirates some important insurance. A 2nd and 19 play turned into one of the night’s biggest as Aguilar connected with Zack Card for a 44-yard touchdown pass. Kai Green added a 33-yard touchdown run with 4:44 left to play to ice the game for good.

“Jaden is a really key part of our offense. I’ve been in his shadow but I love that man. He’s a great friend of mine,” Aguilar said. “I’ve been studying the offense, studying defenses. Everyone told me it was my time to shine and I took that personal. I executed with my brothers and we pulled it out today.”

Aguilar finished the evening 21 for 27 with 276 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Williams was his primary target, hauling in seven passes for 112 yards. Brenden Bush led Clayton Valley Charter, completing 22 of 30 passes for 238 yards.

“I told (Christian) before the game, no matter what happens, it’s your first time coming into a game but I promise you, we’ve got you,” said offensive lineman Aidan Bandes. “You can fall, you can throw a pick, we’re going to be by your side all night. I would say I was surprised but I didn’t expect anything less. He’s a good quarterback.”

Pittsburg’s identity throughout the 2021 season has come largely from the plethora of skill position players it has been able to call on. Where the Pirates have matured possibly the most is in the trenches. That group got one of its biggest tests against a physical group of Ugly Eagles, especially with Clayton Valley’s run-first, double-wing approach presenting a unique challenge that can be hard to prepare for.

Pittsburg Football, NCS Championship
Members of the Pittsburg offensive and defensive lines pose with the NCS hardware.

Pittsburg’s defense was up to the task. The Pirates did enough up front to force Clayton Valley to throw the ball 30 times, lessening the repetitive load on the line. 

“Going into it, we told them hey, we’re going to be putting some of you guys in different positions than what you’re used to and we’re going to change some of our techniques around from what you’re used to,” said defensive coordinator Charlie Ramirez. “If you stay committed to it, we’ll be able to shut this thing down. And we did.”

Ramirez was one Pirate who might have had reason to celebrate a little extra. That’s because he was on the field the last time Pittsburg won a section title. A sophomore linebacker on the 1991 team that beat De La Salle, Ramirez has coached at multiple levels of Pittsburg’s program and now serves as one of the region’s top defensive coordinators.

And as a Pittsburg lifer, the emotion of what happened Friday night rang especially true.

“For us to do this now, exactly 30 years later, it’s special. All the writing was on the wall for it to happen,” Ramirez said. “For the playoff format to be changed, people were saying Pittsburg is getting a second chance, but really all of Division I was getting a second chance. We just happened to be the 2 seed. For us to be able to capitalize on that was huge.”

Charlie Ramirez, NCS Championship
Pittsburg defensive coordinator Charlie Ramirez coaches up All-Bay Valley Athletic League linebacker Jakobe Harmon (44) on the sideline Friday night.

The season continues for Pittsburg, and the Pirates will find out their next opponent on Sunday when the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California regional games are announced. 

In some respects, no matter how the rest of the season turns out, the Pirates are at least a little ahead of schedule. They’ll return the vast majority of their skill talent in 2022, with stars like Rashada and Williams back for their senior seasons. Pittsburg will need to replace its entire offensive line next year, but if that happens, the pieces will seemingly be in place for one of NorCal’s most talented teams to take another step forward.

But while Galli is admittedly notorious for always looking ahead, on this night, all that mattered was the fact that for the first time in 30 years, Pittsburg could call itself a champion.

“They tell us before the games how much it means to the city, the players, the coaches,” Williams said. “It means a lot to be able to say we got it for them. We didn’t win it only for us. We won it for the city of Pittsburg.

Ben Enos

Ben Enos is a freelance journalist who has previously worked for Bay Area News Group and within the University of California Athletics Department.

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