Newman survives double-OT thriller

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

LOOMIS — Shortly after Matt Bowman scored from two yards out to bring Cardinal Newman to within 14-13 of Central Catholic of Modesto with 39 seconds left Saturday afternoon at Del Oro High, the public address announcer intoned that there would be no overtime period.

A cluster of Newman supporters gathered along the sidelines to watch what they assumed would be a 2-point conversion try. “Coach Cronin always goes for it,” an Ursuline cheerleader said with confidence.

The reaction was almost a collective gasp when Cronin instead sent his kicker, Adrian Rubio, onto the field to tie the game. But Cronin knew something most of the crowd didn’t. There would indeed be an overtime in case of a tie. And as it turned out, another. Cardinal Newman went to double overtime to pull out a draining and dramatic 24-21 victory over Central Catholic as part of the Battle of the Capital event.

There had been some question about tiebreakers, but Cronin understands how important an early non-league decision can be to a program with state-title aspirations. He also remembered a 2007 tie against Central Catholic that did neither team a favor. He was having none of it.

“We signed a contract saying we’d go into overtime whenever we played that again,” Cronin said after the game. “You can’t stop that. Our kids deserve the opportunity, and their kids deserve the opportunity.”

Under high school overtime rules, each team gets four downs to score from the opponent’s 10-yard line. Central Catholic won the coin toss and elected to let Newman get the ball first. On third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Tim Moreno made a leaping catch of Matt Sullivan’s throw into the end zone. Rubio’s extra point made it 21-14 Cardinals.
Three plays later, the Raiders’ Craig Jones burst up the middle for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 5. Zach Juarez tied it 21-21 with the PAT.

Temperatures on the synthetic field, with its black-plastic subsurface, climbed above 105 degrees during the game, and both teams were spent by the second overtime. But the captains again met at midfield for a coin toss.

“Overtime, I was dying,” said Garrett Guanella, Newman’s star defensive end, who was also playing offensive tackle by the end of the game. “But the game was on the line. Had to suck it up for the team.”

This time, Newman got the lucky spin and chose to let Central Catholic go first. The Raiders lost two yards in three plays, and Juarez missed a field-goal attempt from 29 yards.

A score of any type would win the game for Cardinal Newman. Cronin had already decided what he’d do if the Modesto team failed to score. Rubio practices placekicks each Wednesday at 7 a.m., and after school practically every day. Cronin immediately sent him onto the field for a 28-yard kick, and the senior nailed it.

It was sweet revenge for the Cardinals, who lost to Central Catholic 36-12 last year en route to a disappointing 7-5 season.

The two teams have played six straight years, and Cardinal Newman now has a 3-2-1 edge. None was more entertaining than this one. For most of four quarters, the two small-school powerhouses took turns stopping one another with defense — and stopping themselves with ill-timed penalties.

The Raiders finally broke a scoreless tie just 9.5 seconds before halftime, on Dominick Ciccarelli’s 25-yard pass to Johnny Mundt. Juarez’s PAT hit the left upright, but Central Catholic still had a 6-0 lead.

The game kicked into another gear in the fourth quarter. Cardinal Newman put together an 18-play drive that ate up more than half of the quarter, and scored on Sullivan’s six-yard scoring pass to Stephen Tomasin on fourth-and-goal. Rubio hit the extra point, and the Cardinals led 7-6.

Central Catholic quickly glided down the field on a crisp six-play drive and capitalized with Sterling Shaw’s nine-yard touchdown run. Ciccarelli hit Jack Killian on the two-point conversion, putting the Raiders up 14-7.

Moreno stunned Central Catholic when he took the ensuing kickoff and ran a serpentine route up the middle for an 88-yard touchdown. But a holding call brought it back.

Denied the quick strike, Newman resorted to a long slog, going 69 yards for the tying score. The Raiders abetted the enemy, committing penalties that gave the Cardinals first downs on third-and-13 and fourth-and-1. Bowman took the ball in, setting up the overtime excitement.

“We came off a rough year last year, and we were coming off all these great years, and we lost a little bit of confidence,” Cronin observed. “And I think they said, ‘Screw this. We’re better than we’re playing.’ They came back with their confidence, and they started focusing in and making plays. I think this team could be a great team. We’re not there yet, because we have some things to fix. But we’ve got a chance to be a great team.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.