Bob Padecky: With a final, perfect step, NBL has a new champion

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Casa Grande’s John Porchivina lets out a yell after a sack near the goal line and teammate Cody Hughson tries to lobby for a safety. (Photo by John Burgess, The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande’s John Porchivina lets out a yell after a sack near the goal line and teammate Cody Hughson tries to lobby for a safety.
(Photo by John Burgess, The Press Democrat)

Off to the side Friday night, apart from the screaming, the jumping, the hugging, with the noise commensurate with the achievement, Trent Herzog stood alone on Newman’s field.

His eyes were red. His voice was shaky. His stare was somewhere. That’s because he was somewhere else, somewhere he had never been before and it was overwhelming him.

“I might start crying,” Herzog said. “But if I do, it’s good tears. This is the happiest I have ever been as a coach. I am going to remember this moment to the day I die.”

Actually Herzog very well might try to push the envelope on this one. He may take it beyond this life but to the next one, to that place where coaches who have won championships sit around and tell stories for eternity. And this is one story to tell.

“We had a target on our back from Day One,” said Casa’s Cody Hughson. “We were everybody’s game.”

To play with that pressure could cripple a team, high expectations becoming leg irons. After all, beating Casa in the fall of 2013 would be the cherry on top for North Bay League teams. That’s why Herzog had moist eyes, why the players celebrated like it was New Year’s Eve (without the adult beverage of course). That’s why, after the game, when Casa was sure Cardinal Newman had run out of time and no longer could scare them with onside kicks and dogged attitude, they let it out. They let it go.

The Casa Grande Gauchos are the 2013 NBL football champions, a perfect 10-0, and no one can say they lucked into it, like the Gauchos did it when no one was watching.

No, Cardinal Newman was watching all right. Oh, how Newman was watching. Casa’s 40-28 victory was earned. That’s what elevated the postgame decibel level for Casa.

“Usually when we get on top of someone,” Hughson said, “you can tell the other team loses a little bit of the fight. Not Cardinal Newman. That’s the reason they have a great program. We hit them hard tonight and they never quit.”

Casa put a hat on Newman Friday night. The Gauchos practically knocked Newman into next week. It was hit after hit after hit and in the parlance of the sport, consistent, aggressive contact diminishes willpower. It is the nature of football — to impose your will upon others. Casa did.

“I have never seen so much heart,” said a Casa player to a Newman player as he went through in the postgame handshake conga line. That Casa player said those seven words repeatedly. He said that with reverence. Like it was an honor.

To any observer of football who has even a modicum of understanding, that’s what stood out from this game Friday night. Casa’s talent? Sure, it was there. It was everywhere. The Gauchos scored touchdowns from 28, 49 and 62 yards.

Quarterback JaJuan Lawson and running back John Porchivina played to their press clippings. They can, as they did Friday night, take an ordinary play and break it long. No distance from the end zone is too far from them. And that they did it again Friday night was no surprise.

Clearly, the Gauchos were the better team. Clearly, the right team won. And to also be perfectly clear, the only reason the score wasn’t 49-0 was because Paul Cronin is Newman’s coach and Keaton Dunsford is the quarterback. Cronin found routes to exploit Dunsford’s passing and instilled in his players the will to compete. This may have been Cronin’s best work ever as a coach, and that includes when he took Newman to state six years ago.

This assessment may rub people the wrong way, paying so much attention to Newman the night Casa won the NBL. But just as much as there is to admire about Casa’s talent and aggressive nature, those attributes become even more compelling, and more laudatory, when they had to be used and squeezed to the max by the team on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

“We won the NBL tonight!” Herzog screamed to his team. “We were undefeated during the regular season! No one can ever take this away from us. Never! Ever!

“And this is yours!”

With a flick of his wrist Herzog flicked the NBL championship pennant into his crowd of players. You would have thought a feeding frenzy might have resulted, so high was the tempo. But no! The pennant traveled smoothly and efficiently from hand to hand, passed like it was a trophy.

Monday that NBL title pennant will be part of a Veterans’ Day Parade through downtown Petaluma. Herzog was asked, and he eagerly accepted, an invitation for his team to march with the veterans that morning.

“It’s all about the veterans that day,” Herzog said, “please remember that.”

It certainly is, but it will be a parade to celebrate, to clap, to enjoy, to savor. For the Casa Grande football Gauchos, even if it’s only for a few minutes that they feel the love of the community, no one should deny them that. For they have earned applause. They most certainly have.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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