By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
TOMALES — It doesn’t have to be a Super Bowl or Cal-Stanford for a game to feel like a hot wire is in front of you. That’s what Tomales and St. Vincent felt like Friday night. There was a hot wire out there on the field, where plays and players felt electric, so much so that the game felt almost too hot to touch.
That’s what a small-school rivalry can do for those who watch. St. Vincent won, 18-14, and St. Vincent coach Gary Galloway needed no convincing to make the following statement.
“Yes,” he said, “it felt like a playoff game out there.”
The first half was like a set-up for how things would turn out. The first half was an 8-6 game, a Tomales lead that didn’t feel shaky as much as St. Vincent not doing much to threaten the Braves.
At halftime, St. Vincent had 36 yards passing and 23 rushing. At halftime, Galloway didn’t read his team the riot act but, on the other hand, he didn’t give them milk and cookies either.
“I told them that our defense was strong, solid and we were playing well there,” Galloway said. “The only touchdown they scored was off our offense.”
It was Tomales’ Willy Lepori intercepting Jack Richardson and returning it 16 yards for the game’s first touchdown. And even though St. Vincent running back Derek Murphy did nail that 1-yard touchdown run just before half, the Mustangs didn’t offer much of a promise that things were going to get better.
And when Tomales went up, 14-6, midway through the third quarter, when Lepori scored from the 4, it felt like Tomales was leading by 80 points, not eight. And after St. Vincent was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the ensuing kickoff, the momentum seemed to be on Tomales’ sideline.
“We made some adjustments,” Galloway said.
One of them was inserting the quarterback draw into the play calling. St. Vincent drove 79 yards in 12 plays with all but 29 yards collected on Murphy runs. It was those 29 yards, however, that made the difference.
Richardson ran two quarterback draws of 15 and 14 yards, the execution of which clearly took the Tomales defense out of its comfort zone. It was now 14-12 Tomales, and almost as if it was a predicted clockwork, St. Vincent ran the very same plays the next time it received the ball.
St. Vincent used nine plays to go 45 yards for Murphy’s go-ahead 1-yard touchdown. Again, just as in the previous series, Richardson had three quarterback keepers that earned significant yardage. Those three draws earned three first downs. Again, Richardson ran when Murphy didn’t.
It now was 18-14 St. Vincent with 6:56 left in the game. The Mustangs had the momentum. One might had even thought the game was theirs to control. But that didn’t take into account the emotions that ran hard and fast and strong throughout the game.
Sixteen penalties were called in the game, five of them for unsportsmanlike conduct. While the officials did a commendable job preventing the intensity from reaching the brawl stage, the penalties nonetheless created an edge that made the following sentence quite obvious.
That 18-14 lead was not safe. The tempo was not even and contained. The game felt raw at times, the outbursts that loud and obvious. That said, it felt fitting, therefore, that the game’s last critical play had such a hectic feel to it.
“I shouldn’t have caught the ball,” said St. Vincent defensive back Chris Faulknor. “I should have knocked it down.”
With Tomales out of timeouts and just 57.6 seconds left on the game clock, Braves quarterback Joel Gutierrez threw a 30-yard pass downfield in the hopes of grabbing up a lot of yardage. A running team, Tomales typically doesn’t grab up a lot of yardage quickly.
Faulknor cut the pass off, jumped high and snagged it. If he had batted it down, St. Vincent would have taken the ball over on downs.
“I just didn’t want them to have it,” Faulknor said.
Here comes the fun part.
“Then I fumbled it,” Faulknor said, shaking his head.
“And then I recovered it,” said Faulknor again, shaking his head.
If Tomales had recovered the ball, the Braves would have been on St. Vincent’s 30, with enough time to throw one more pass. As it was, a hectic, hard-fought game that had some verbal chirpiness to it screeched to a halt.
“I’m a senior and I have never lost to Tomales in the four years I’ve been at St. Vincent,” Faulknor said. “That feels really good.”
It also feels good to Faulknor and the Mustangs that they just upped their chances to making a dent in the postseason selections. St. Vincent now climbs to a 5-2 record while Tomales drops to 5-3.
Will the selectors be impressed by St. Vincent’s record? Maybe. What they should do, but probably won’t, is look at the game film of the Tomales game. They would see something that all good teams have in common.
“They have no quit in them,” said Galloway, a statement that contains the truest of truisms.
You can’t win if you don’t want to.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.