By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Despite losing star quarterback Richard Hoppe to a concussion early in the third quarter, visiting St. Helena rallied to defeat Salesian, 29-25, in an NCS Div. 4 quarterfinal game Saturday afternoon at Richmond.
The Saints, the No. 6 seed in the bracket, will host No. 10 San Marin in a semifinal at 7 p.m. next Saturday.
Salesian was attempting to win the Div. 4 title for the third year in a row.
Jack Preston, who spent most of the season on the junior varsity, was pressed into service when Hoppe went down. At the time, his team was trailing, 19-15.
The sophomore promptly led St. Helena on a drive that produced the go-ahead touchdown. Danny Brink’s 48-yard run put the Saints in front, 22-19, and Salesian was unable to regain the lead.
Preston had big shoes to fill. Hoppe went into the game with 1,764 passing yards and 24 TDs. Before the injury, he ran for a 10-yard score and completed eight passes for 129 yards.
“I was playing linebacker and was talking to the defensive unit coach when Richard went down,” Preston said. “I heard coach (Brandon) Farrell yelling my name and I picked up my helmet and ran over to him.
“Coach just said ‘you’re in’ and I ran out to the huddle. I didn’t know many plays, so we kept it simple. It happened so fast, I didn’t have a chance to get nervous. After the first couple of plays, it hit me and I did get a little nervous.”
Preston completed 1 of 3 passes for seven yards and ran the ball five times for 11 yards.
Salesian started fast and led 19-9 after one quarter, but the Pride was held to six points over the final three quarters.
“We didn’t do a good job of tackling in the first quarter,” Farrell said. “I don’t know if it was nerves, but we played some of our best defense after that.”
The Saints intercepted four passes, one each by Gatlin Blakely, Francisco Otero, Joey Brink and Matteo Abreu.
Abreu ran his back for a 59-yard touchdown that put St. Helena ahead, 29-19, in the third quarter. Several minutes later, Salesian struck with a 61-yard pass from Zach Boyett to Tyrone Morgan.
Neither team scored in the fourth quarter.
Salesian, which had been 5-0 at home, finishes 9-3 overall.
St. Helena plays on with an 11-1 record.
“This is the biggest win for the St. Helena program since I don’t when,” Farrell said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the way these guys played.”