By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SEBASTOPOL — They really should do this more often.
Playing for the first time in 20 years, No. 5 seed Cardinal Newman and No. 4 Analy staged a football game that was every bit as competitive as expected. In the end, it was the new contender, Analy, that outlasted the traditional power, Cardinal Newman, and came away with a thrilling 33-30 win in a North Coast Section Division 3 playoff game.
“We made a big statement coming out here and beating Newman,” Tigers quarterback Will Smith said. “Even beating them by three points, it’s still a big statement to beat a big powerhouse from Sonoma County like this. I mean, all you hear is teams talk about Newman, Newman, Newman.”
People have begun to talk about Analy (11-1), which managed to fly under the radar while going undefeated in the second-tier Sonoma County League. Nothing around here grabs attention like knocking off Newman, a program that has won 11 NCS football titles.
The Tigers got 231 yards from scrimmage from their dynamo of a running back Ja’Narrick James, who rushed for 158 on 27 carries, gained 73 on four receptions and scored four of Analy’s five touchdowns. They also forced the Cardinals into four big turnovers.
It was the first and last takeaways that really shifted the tide.
Analy started the game with a lightning strike. On a short, lofted kickoff, Kieran Newell flew downfield and blasted Cardinals return man Zach Stoltz just as he fielded the ball. It came loose, and Koby Einstein recovered for the Tigers at the Cardinal Newman 11. We were four seconds into the game, and Analy had drawn first blood.
Three plays later, James scored on third-and-5 from the Newman 6 to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead after just 42 seconds of play.
If there was a bigger turnover than the blown-up kickoff return, it came with less than three minutes to play. Analy was up almost the entire game, but couldn’t shake Cardinal Newman. The Cardinals scored with 5:33 left on Keaton Dunsford’s 13-yard dart to Jeff Rebello, cutting their deficit to 33-30, and were on the march again with the clock dwindling.
With about 2:45 remaining, Newman faced third-and-6 at the Analy 13. A touchdown would give the visitors a back-breaking lead. Even a field goal would tie the game and put pressure on the Tigers. But the shotgun snap to Dunsford was high, and he couldn’t corral it. The ball wound up on the ground.
“One of our guys tried to scoop it up and run it,“ Analy coach Dan Bourdon said. “I almost ran out and killed him.”
Linebacker T.J. Acheson made the smart play and fell on it. “I just sat there with the ball under my gut,“ Acheson said. “I just thought, ‘Keep it, keep it.’”
He did, giving the Tigers possession with 2:22 left. One first down by James, and Analy was able to run out the clock.
The Tigers needed all of James’ yardage, and all those defensive steals, to overcome a sterling performance by Cardinals quarterback Keaton Dunsford, who completed 28 of 39 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown. Dunsford tore up the Analy pass defense on slant routes all night, distributing the ball effectively; four different Newman receivers had 50 or more yards, paced by Kasey Mansen’s 102 on five catches.
Dunsford was particularly strong in the second half, when he completed 13 of 17 for 150 yards. He also was uncharacteristically nimble with his feet, gaining 87 yards on 17 carries, most of them after faking handoffs.
Dunsford did throw two second-quarter interceptions, and Analy converted both into touchdowns. What sort of night was this for the Tigers? Dunsford’s first pick hit Newell in the head and bounced into the arms of Acheson, the alert linebacker.
While Dunsford got hot in the second half, the Analy offense went cold. Before halftime, Tigers quarterback Smith hit six of nine passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. After halftime he failed to complete a pass in five attempts. Analy had just three first downs in the second half.
“I think our guys are used to playing two quarters of football,“ Bourdon said. “This is the first time since preseason that we played a close game. It wasn’t perfect, but we won.”
Analy (11-1) now faces the winner of tonight’s Marin Catholic-Eureka game in the semifinals. Everyone assumes it will be undefeated Marin Catholic, the defending Division 3 champion. If so, it will be an even more daunting task than beating Cardinal Newman (8-4), in part because it will be a road game.
“Marin Catholic — that’s the golden apple,” Acheson said.
Phil Barber can be reached at Phil.Barber@pressdemocrat.com