Football: Kickoff return gets Newman moving in shutout over Novato

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

NOVATO — Up just 7-0 after a plodding first half Saturday afternoon, Cardinal Newman needed a spark. Senior Jacob Webb provided it immediately. Well, almost immediately.

Webb fielded the second-half kickoff at his 7-yard line, patiently waited for his blocking wedge to develop and sped straight up the field for a game-changing touchdown return. Up 14-0 at that point, the defense got fired up, junior quarterback Keaton Dunsford settled down and the Cardinals pulled away for a 28-0 victory over Novato.

“My wedge group did a great job,” Webb said. “I didn’t even get touched. They made my job easy. I hit the (Novato) 30-yard line, and I said, ‘There it is.’ ”

Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin was less than thrilled with his team’s play in the first half. The Cardinals were outgained 122-86 before halftime, and probably wouldn’t have been leading were it not for missed field-goal attempts after Novato’s first two possessions (one of them blocked), and an interception by Newman’s Chris McDonnell to end the third possession.

Dunsford, who played JV ball last year, looked especially uncomfortable in the first half, connecting on just 3 of 8 passes for 34 yards. Cronin said he is bringing Dunsford along slowly in his offensive system, as he would any inexperienced quarterback.

“You come out and, boom!, you’re not ready for the intensity of the game,” Cronin said. “I can remember being in that spot (playing at Piner). It’s hard to refocus. He did a great job at halftime getting his focus back.”

Dunsford was 7 of 9 for 85 yards, with one interception, in the second half.

“We had kind of a lot of confusion in the first half,” he said. “I have to figure out how to get myself in a good environment in the first half. … Everything takes time. I was a little uncomfortable to start. But I have confidence in myself, and I think my teammates have confidence in me.”

Really, it was the defense that turned this game around. In the first half, the unit was timely and resilient, turning back four Novato drives into Cardinal Newman territory. In the second half it was simply dominant.

The Hornets didn’t pick up a single first down in the third quarter. And their final four possessions of the game ended with a fumble recovery by Newman’s Chris Steele, a punt on fourth-and-52, a fourth-down incompletion and a fumble recovery by Michael Lockwood.

Novato had two threats on offense: running back Herve Changeux and Walter Serafin, who lined up at several spots but got most of his carries on direct snaps in a Wildcat-like set. Changeux wound up with 83 yards on 18 carries, Serafin with 67 on 16 attempts — respectable but not game-changing.

The Hornets passing game never really got off the ground, with quarterback Robbie Cassee completing 4 of 10 passes for 27 yards — all of the yardage before halftime.

Senior Kenny Carter led Cardinal Newman with 57 rushing yards on 15 carries and backup QB Zak Faber, who enters the game in short-yardage situations, had three 1-yard touchdown plunges.

Junior Kevin Lucey made five receptions for 72 yards, Nolan Sheahan had a pair of sacks and Phil Wright was typically dominant, with numerous tackles and a couple of catches at tight end.

The Cardinals, who always harbor state-title aspirations, next take their 2-0 record to Alhambra, which lost to Rancho Cotate on Friday. Cronin would like to see a more complete game from his team.

“We’re good enough to make plays,” he said. “But if you say ‘we’re good at times,’ to me that’s just average. If you’re good all the time, you can be exceptional, and that’s what we’re trying to be.”

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