Cardinals crowned NCS champions

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

ROHNERT PARK — The fourth quarter opened with a 7-7 deadlock, the North Coast Section Division 3 title looking no closer to being settled than when this game began at Rancho Cotate’s Cougar Field on Friday night.

The Cardinal Newman defense puts the blinders on Encinal's Jonathan Allen during Friday's NCS Division 3 championship game at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park. Cardinal Newman defeated Encinal, 35-7. (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat)

In other words, the Cardinal Newman Cardinals had the Encinal Jets exactly where they wanted them.

“Going into the thing, our whole plan was, how tired can we get these guys?” Newman coach Paul Cronin said afterward. “Because they don’t have the numbers, we thought, to play the whole game. So we weren’t really concerned about scoring points early. I mean, we’d like to score points. But how fast can we go? How rapid can we go until they get tired?”

After a dominant final quarter, the Cardinals were celebrating a 35-7 victory and another NCS title. You’d think Newman would be used to this by now, but judging by the reaction of its players, and the fans who stormed the field to join the party, section championship No.11 felt just as good as No.1.

“I’m more proud of those kids than any I’ve coached,” Cronin said. “They came in January in the first week of school, and they woke up at 6 in the morning, and they worked their tails off five days a week. And they did that all the way until mid-December. That’s a credit to them, and their parents, doing something like that. They got what they deserve — a section title.”

Encinal entered the game with a 12-1 record, a recent win over previously undefeated Marin Catholic, and recognition as the top Northern California team in Division 3. But as Cronin pointed out, the Jets are not deep. Their official roster on MaxPreps.com lists 26 players; Newman’s lists 54.

So the Cardinals, always fast-paced on offense, stepped it up a gear.

“I told my coaches, ‘Don’t talk to me between plays. Whether it’s a good play or a bad play, we’re calling a play. And we’re frickin’ getting as many reps as we can,’” Cronin said. “And coach (Mike) Gaddie, an ex-Piner basketball coach of mine, said that once someone’s tired, they could never be rested the rest of the game.”

Part of the plan was being aggressive on fourth down. The Cardinals went for it five times in the first half alone, converting four. Cronin felt the Jets were tired at halftime. The Cardinals didn’t take full advantage during the third quarter, but they began to turn the battle for field position, and when the final quarter opened, they had a first down at the Encinal 21-yard line.

That’s when the floodgates opened.

Three plays into the quarter, quarterback Matt Sullivan faked a handoff to Stephen Tomasin and sped around the right end for a 4-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead. Less than a minute later, Encinal runner Jonathan Allen lost the ball when hit, and linebacker Daniel Benjamin pounced on it for Cardinal Newman. It took the Cardinals 39 seconds to score on Tomasin’s 1-yard plunge up the middle. Ten seconds later, defensive Tim Moreno picked off a pass by Andrew Ve’e and returned in 35 yards for a touchdown.

Newman had scored three times in 1:28, turning a taut playoff struggle into another decisive win. The Cardinals added a touchdown late in the game on Phil Wright’s reaching 3-yard run, and wound up winning their four playoff games by a cumulative total of 168-66.

It would be nice if that fast finish propelled Cardinal Newman into the Division 3 state title game, but no team with three losses has ever been picked for a state bowl game.

Newman lost preseason games to big-school powers Valley Christian of San Jose and Palma of Salinas, and later dropped a 27-21 result to Rancho Cotate that cost the Cardinals the North Bay League title. They finished 11-3 and peaked at the right time.

Late in the first quarter Friday, Newman looked anything but dominant. Encinal drove 68 yards on its first possession, down to the Cardinals’ 12-yard line, before the Jets’ Bo Banks missed a 29-yard field goal.

The next time Encinal got the ball, the team from Alameda soon faced fourth-and-1 at its own 15-yard line. Coach Joe Tenorio decided to go for it, and after breaking through the initial stack at the line, Jon Trodder sped 85 yards for a touchdown.

Cardinal Newman tied it at 7-7 in the second quarter when Tomasin went 6 yards off left tackle to complete a 68-yard drive. He helped set up his score with a 32-yard run, one of only two on the night of more than 7 yards for the Cardinals’ workhorse.

Tomasin had averaged 213 rushing yards in his first three NCS games. Friday, he gained 116 on 28 carries, many of them between the tackles. Matt Sullivan had a modest day passing the ball — 10 of 19 for 113 yards, with one interception — but added 65 on 16 carries.

Despite scoring just the one touchdown, Encinal powered for 284 yards on the ground, including 111 by Trodder and 105 by Allen. The Jets had just 49 yards passing, though, and most of that came against a prevent defense on the final drive of the game.

Tenorio’s team lines up in a variety of sets, and has some exceptional athletes — like Allen, and Bay Shore Athletic League lineman of the year Joshua Morrow, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound monster.

“Look at their players, and look at ours, and it’s definitely a mismatch,” defensive lineman Courtland Palmer said. “But we have the ability to game-plan better than any other team. When they made adjustments, we made adjustments.”

The Cardinals are champions again. And that’s one development that requires little adjustment.

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

BOX SCORE

NCS DIV. 3 CHAMPIONSHIP

AT RANCHO COTATE

Encinal                         7   0   0   0   —   7
Cardinal Newman        0   7   0 28   — 35

E—Jon Trodder 85 run (Trodder kick)
CN—Stephen Tomasin 6 run (Adrian Rubio kick)
CN—Matt Sullivan 4 run (Rubio kick)
CN—Tomasin 1 run (Rubio kick)
CN—Tim Moreno 35 int return (Rubio kick)
CN—Phil Wright 3 run (Rubio kick)

Rushing: E—Trodder 4×111, Jonathan Allen 19×105, Bo Banks 5×26, Andrew Ve’e 4×22. CN—Tomasin 28×116, Sullivan 16×65.

Passing: E—Ve’e 7/13, 49 yds, 1 int. CN—Sullivan 10/19, 113 yds, 1 int.

Receiving: E—Banks 3×27, Devonyo Bills 2×25. CN—DJ Mayogarl 1×33, Tomasin 2×31, Moreno 5×30.

Records: E 12-2, CN 11-3