By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — On paper, it looked like a top-rung small-school matchup: St. Vincent, ranked No. 9 in Northern California by Cal-Hi Sports coming into the weekend, hosting St. Helena, which is a little bigger and a little hotter, coming off last year’s NCL I championship.
On the artificial turf of St. Vincent High’s field, it was no contest. The Saints were too fast and too efficient for the Mustangs, racing to a 41-0 halftime lead before coasting to a 44-14 victory.
“I told the guys that they have tremendous team speed,” St. Vincent coach Gary Galloway said. “We had to make sure we had good angles on their running backs and receivers. But you can’t simulate that in practice if you don’t have it.”
The points sometimes came frighteningly fast for the Saints. They scored on the opening plays of their third and fifth possessions (both times getting great field position, after a fumble recovery and a short punt), and finding the end zone on the second play of their sixth drive.
Richard Hoppe, St. Helena’s senior quarterback, orchestrated the onslaught, completing 6 of 9 passes for 116 yards and four touchdowns, two of them to junior wide receiver Gatlin Blakely.
Hoppe did it all in the first half. He didn’t see any snaps at QB after halftime.
“His preparation and the things he works on each week, he’s ready to play, and he’s very comfortable being a third-year starter back there,” St. Helena coach Brandon Farrell said of Hoppe. “He is a terrific leader. He kind of underthrew his first pass a little bit, and he came back and he was the one that criticized himself. It wasn’t me that had to tell him anything.”
Blakely and fellow receivers Joey Brink and Chris Kewell frequently found themselves open behind the St. Vincent secondary. The Mustangs had two new starters at cornerback, and their inexperience showed.
Senior Danny Brink (Joey’s identical twin) added a 77-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, slipping a tackle, getting to the right sideline, then eluding the deep safety en route to the end zone.
But St. Helena’s advantage in speed was equally evident on the other side of the ball. The Saints’ defense constantly swarmed St. Vincent ball carriers and hounded quarterback Mitch Sheppard.
The Mustangs had just 20 yards from scrimmage and one first down in the first half.
They finished with 150 total yards, and found their way to two touchdowns in the second half — on a 23-yard screen pass to junior Derek Murphy and a nifty 25-yard run by sophomore George Sammon.
Murphy’s touchdown preserved a streak for Sheppard, who has tossed at least one scoring pass in each of his 12 starts for St. Vincent.
Joey Brink replaced Hoppe under center for St. Helena (2-0) and completed all nine of his passes for 45 yards in the second half, though he had some trouble with the center snap. Officials went with a running clock for the fourth quarter.
St. Vincent (1-1) got a scare in the third quarter when 300-pound defensive lineman Danny Rodriguez got crushed by a blindside hit on a running play. Rodriguez was down on the turf for at least five minutes, and he later left by ambulance. St. Vincent trainers and responding EMTs believed he had strained muscles in his back — painful but not dangerous in the long term.