Cardinal Newman faces test in talented El Cerrito

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Playing a rugged schedule to burnish state bowl game credentials, supremely skilled El Cerrito added Cardinal Newman to the Gauchos’ gauntlet.
With players already committed to major college programs back from last year’s section runner-up team, the Gauchos pose the Cardinals’ toughest test this season.
Saturday night’s clash at Cardinal Newman could be the headline attraction in the Redwood Empire during the September non-conference schedule before league play begins Sept. 27.
Cardinal Newman enters the game as The Press Democrat’s No. 1-ranked large school football program after easy wins on the road in Week 1 against Modesto Christian and at home Friday against Novato.
What are the Cardinals up against Saturday night? Just ask Analy coaches and players.
El Cerrito ended the greatest football season in Analy history a year ago, rolling up a big lead and largely containing the typically explosive Tigers in the North Coast Section Division 3 semifinals. El Cerrito then fell in the title game to Marin Catholic, the squad that edged Cardinal Newman in the same playoffs.
Aiming to make an even deeper postseason run, El Cerrito is taking on top teams in the state and Northern California ahead of league play. El Cerrito opened with a convincing win at Sutter High School against the defending Northern Section Division 2 champion.
Then the Gauchos took on Bellarmine, the San Jose powerhouse that has played in two state bowl games and is ranked No. 11 overall in California. Bellarmine edged El Cerrito in a back-and-forth contest.
El Cerrito is ranked first in Northern California Division 3 — Cardinal Newman is third — in the weekly Cal-Hi Sports poll.
What the Gauchos feature is speed everywhere.
Leading the Gauchos offense is quarterback Keilan Benjamin, a dual threat who is elusive and has a strong arm. He spreads ball around with primary target Jalen Harvey, one of the state’s top receivers and committed to Cal.
Size and athleticism make El Cerrito a tough foe on both sides of the ball.
Anchoring the physical El Cerrito defense is Derik Calhoun. One of the nation’s top linebackers, Calhoun is committed to USC.
Passing against El Cerrito can be difficult. The Gauchos’ leading cover player is Adarius Pickett, one of the nation’s best at the position. Pickett is committed to UCLA.
Cardinal Newman is ready for the challenge after posting big wins in the season’s first two games.
With an offense in gear behind quarterback Keaton Dunsford, the Cardinals have piled up points. The defense has been equally strong.
Michael Coit can be reached at Mike.Coit@PressDemocrat.com

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