It was late in the fourth quarter and the crowd at La Playa Stadium was on its feet and screaming itself hoarse. On the sidelines, the players and coaches were a bundle of nerves.
Friday night was unlike any Bishop Diego football game this season. The Cardinals, who came into the game averaging 51 points a game, had scored only one touchdown, trailed San Diego Section small schools power Santa Fe Christian by one point and had to go 80 yards in the final 3:36 to pull out a win.
The Cardinals did it and in dramatic fashion. Senior running back Jack Gregson, returning to action from a knee injury suffered five weeks ago, scored the winning touchdown a 16-yard run with 41 seconds to play and the defense knocked down a last-second Hail Mary pass as Bishop beat Santa Fe Christian 13-8 to complete its non-league schedule undefeated at 6-0.
Gregson blasted into the middle of the line, broke to his left and ran into the end zone to set up a big celebration on the Bishop sideline and in the stands. The touchdown capped an impressive drive that was aided by a roughing the passer penalty against the Eagles on a third-and-13 from their 31.
The Cardinals threw an incomplete pass on the next play before Gregson found his way into the end zone.
“That’s our student-body play right up the middle,” Gregson said. “It was a great hole by our line. Cowboy (John Samson) and Jose (Del Campo), they built a hole right in front of me and I just did my job. That’s the easy part.”
Gregson also had a key 11-yard run on third-and-four and Aidan Williams broke through at tough Santa Fe Christian defense for a 19-yard gain on the game-winning drive.
Samson, a stalwart on the line on both sides of the ball, was overjoyed about the comeback win.
“It’s huge. I’ve never had a bigger win,” the excitable Samson said. “We just kept pushing, pushing, pushing, our run plays, pass plays, everything, and got down the field and scored.”
On Gregson returning to the lineup and scoring the winning touchdown, Samson exclaimed: “It’s better than anything. That’s perfect.”
The game was far from perfect for the Cardinals. They committed several penalties that cost them scoring opportunities.
They did, however, get off to a great start. Just like they’d done against their previous opponents, the Cardinals took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards for a touchdown. Sophomore running back Abel Gonzalez scored on an 11-yard run. The big play on the drive was a scintillating 52-yard scamper by quarterback Anthony Carter.
The quick-footed Carter had a terrific game, rushing for 116 yards on 11 carries. Gregson had 54 on eight rushes.
Hard-running Tony Miro of Santa Fe Christian rushed for 82 yards on 20 carries.
Santa Fe Christian (2-3), the 2011 San Diego Section Division 5 finalist, capitalized on a Bishop Diego fumble to take the lead early in the second quarter. Starting at their 47, the Eagles scored on a third-and-22 pass play, with quarterback Hunter Vaccaro hitting Nathan Ross for a 39-yard touchdown. The Eagles muffed the snap on the PAT kick, but kicker Drew Shields alertly picked up the ball and threw to Hakon Bream for a two-point conversion and an 8-7 lead.
The game turned into a defensive battle as the teams shut down each others’ potent attacks.
Both teams missed field-goal attempts.
It was after an Eagles’ miss from 43 yards that Bishop’s offense stepped up and drove down the field for Gregson’s winning score in crunch time.
“I just wanted to win,” Gregson said. “I don’t care how we did it.”
“I’m numb right now,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said. “That was a good game. It could have gone either way. The reality was neither team was really playing well offensively, but the defenses were just lights out on both sides.”
Santa Fe Christian coach Nick Ruscetta said his team had a few breakdowns, but overall he felt both teams turned in a solid effort.
“We knew they were good and we know were are good,” he said. “We wanted to play one of the top teams in our division out of our area and that’s who these guys are.”