By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
KENTFIELD — Beating a high-profile Catholic-school power in the North Coast Section playoffs helped put Analy football on the map. Doing it twice in consecutive weeks proved to be too much to ask.
Eight days after knocking off Cardinal Newman in a Division 3 quarterfinal game, the Tigers ran into a buzzsaw Saturday and lost 48-20 at Marin Catholic High in the semifinals, bringing an end to what was probably the best football season in Analy history.
“It’s been a hell of a ride,” junior running back Ja’Narrick James said after the game, choking up a bit as he took his turn addressing teammates. “There’s not much to hang your head about. Don’t cry tears of sadness because it’s over. Celebrate it.”
Indeed, there is much to feel good about in Sebastopol.
The Tigers have put together back-to-back seasons with a cumulative record of 23-3, advancing to the NCS D3 semis both years.
The landmark win over Newman last week punctuated the progress at a school better known for basketball.
Sometimes, however, the opponent is just better than you — and a lot of teams wind up saying that about Marin Catholic.
The Wildcats have lost exactly four games over the past five seasons. They won section titles in 2009 and 2012, lost in the championship game in 2011, and are now 12-0 in 2013. There’s a reason Marin Catholic came into this game as the No. 1 seed.
“They were real fundamentally sound,” said Analy lineman Jacob Hicks, who was double-teamed practically the entire game at nose tackle.
“And they had size on Newman. I mean, Newman was fundamentally sound, but add another 30, 35 pounds, that does a lot.”
The Wildcats would seem to be a team without a weakness as they head into the D3 title game against No. 3 El Cerrito at Burrell Field in San Leandro next Friday.
Their quarterback, Morgan Mahalak, has committed to Oregon. Their most versatile player, senior Andrew Celis — he catches passes, kicks and returns kicks — is bound for Nevada. Marin Catholic is big, fast and deep.
As Hicks suggested, though, the Wildcats’ ability to execute might be their most impressive trait.
“They were the best team I’ve played, ever,” Analy quarterback Will Smith said. “Their quarterback’s a great player, their receiver’s a great player. They did what they had to do. And we didn’t come out and play our best game. We’d have to play our best game, and they’d have to have an off game. They’re a great team.”
The Tigers (11-2) did not play error-free, but they never looked intimidated. After a sluggish start by both offenses — the game started with five punts — the first quarter ended in a 7-7 tie.
By the end of the third quarter, Analy was down 34-20. It was still a two-possession game.
But the Tigers were worn down by then, and they never mounted another serious attack.
Their three fourth-quarter possessions ended in two interceptions and an incompletion on fourth down.
“It was a physical game — on both sides,” Analy coach Dan Bourdon said. “If we had to suit up for a game next Friday, we’d be pretty beat up.”
The Wildcats were amazingly balanced.
Mahalak completed 21 of 29 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns, Celis catching nine passes for 173 yards. Mahalak also ran for 139 yards, including a pair of 52-yard jaunts — one of them for a touchdown to start the second quarter — and backs Sam Kilpack and Darius Peterson each ran for 77. Peterson added a pair of rushing touchdowns.
All told, Marin Catholic rolled up about 600 yards of total offense. The last time Analy gave up 48 points or more was in the first round of the 2008 playoffs — in a 49-8 loss to Marin Catholic on this same field.
The key sequence Saturday probably occurred at the start of the second quarter. After Mahalak’s scoring run, the Tigers tried to respond, but star receiver Kerr Johnson fumbled the ball after a reception and Ricky McCloskey recovered for the Wildcats.
The Analy coaches thought Johnson was down; the officials disagreed and gave Marin Catholic the ball at the Tigers’ 41.
It didn’t take long for the Wildcats to cash in on Celis’ 10-yard touchdown run that made it 21-7.
Neither coach was afraid to resort to a little trickery in this game. Analy scored on a double-reverse — Smith to James to Johnson — late in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 21-14.
“We just put that play in, I’ll say a couple weeks ago, because people started to catch on to our outside runs,” James said. “It’s something we just put in there. And thank God it worked.”
Marin Catholic upped the ante about two minutes later, scoring on a hook-and-ladder play from the Analy 13. Mahalak threw a short pass to Nick Heimbrodt, who quickly pitched it to Celis to complete the touchdown play.
Smith wound up completing 19 of 36 passes for 229 yards for the Tigers. James had a combined 160 yards rushing and receiving, and Johnson gained an even 100 on seven receptions. All three of those players are juniors.
They’ll be returning to the Analy program next year, as will several other key players.
“A lot of the big guns are coming back next year,” Bourdon said. “So I’m looking forward to that.”
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or email@example.com.