There’s a saying that goes: “No guts, no glory.”
Those four words can best describe Bishop Diego’s hard-earned 14-7 victory over Nordhoff in a battle between unbeaten football teams for the Tri-Valley League championship on Saturday night.
Bishop Diego overcame the loss of three starters to injuries and its defense came up big after two fumbles in the fourth quarter to pull out the championship victory before a big crowd at La Playa Stadium.
The title is the second in a row for the Cardinals, who won the Frontier League last season.
Bishop completes TVL play with a perfect 4-0 record and improves its overall mark to 9-0, making it the first team in school history to go 9-0. The second-ranked Cardinals figure to replace Nordhoff as the No. 1 team in the CIF Northwest Division rankings next week. The Rangers suffered their first loss and are now 8-1 and 2-1 in the TVL.
Nordhoff was in position to tie the score in the final 1:38 when it recovered a Bishop Diego fumble at the Cardinals’ 25. Rangers quarterback Tanner Workman passed to 6-3 receiver Brad Sloan to move the ball to the 11. After a five-yard penalty against the Rangers, Bishop defenders Justin Brosnan and Aidan Williams sacked Workman. On fourth down, Workman threw a quick-out pass to Eric Lara and he was immediately tackled by Gonzalez, short of a first down. The Cardinals took over possession and ran out the final two seconds.
It was a big-time gut check for the Cardinals, who lost center Jack Braniff, linebacker Adrian Solis and quarterback Gabe Molina to injuries suffered in the intense, hard-hitting game.
“It was a gutsy performance, it really was,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said. “We got banged up a little bit and had to deal with some things — guys going out. It really required guys to step up and play with guts, and they really did.”
Skinner echoed his coach’s remarks. “We may not have the biggest roster, but everybody on this team can step on the field at any time and play well.”
Carter hardly stepped off the field after Molina went down late in the first half. He ran the offense, played in the defensive backfield and punted. As a defender, he thwarted a Nordhoff scoring threat by intercepting a pass inside the Bishop 10 in the second quarter. On a few plays in the second half, Nunzio Bilotti came in at quarterback to give Carter a rest.
“We had to take him out a couple of times just to try to get him some air,” Crawford said of Carter. “AC is a gutsy competitor. What I really like about him tonight was when a mistake was made he just responded and kept on playing.”
Carter helped rally the Cardinals after Nordhoff took a 7-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
Running back Matt Woodcock caught a screen pass from quarterback Tanner Workman, broke a tackle and rambled 61 yards for the Rangers’ touchdown.
Woodcock became the featured back for the Rangers as leading rusher Tayler Livingston suffered an injury during pre-game warmups and did not play.
“Matt Woodcock is a good running back and we’re fine putting him in,” Nordhoff coach Tony Henney said. “We don’t really miss much between the two. Matt turned his ankle in first quarter. I thought he did really good job battling throughout the game.”
Bishop was able to tie the score after Gonzalez intercepted a Workman pass that was deflected by a Cardinal lineman at the Nordhoff 8. Carter passed three yards to a wide-open Nolan Tooley for the touchdown.
“We gave them that interception at the 5-yard line and they scored. Other than that it’s a 7-7 game,” said Henney.
The Cardinals gave Nordhoff a chance to score right before halftime when Brandon Wadsworth recovered a fumble at the 39. Workman threw to Sloan in the end zone, but the 5-10 Skinner broke up the play, leaving the score at 7-7.
Bishop started fast in the second half, driving to the Nordhoff 20 on the opening possession before being stopped. Enzo Troiani tried a 37-yard field goal but the Rangers blocked it.
Bishop’s defense stepped up and held the Rangers to three and out.
The Cardinals got the ball back and went right at Nordhoff with runs by Gonzalez, Williams, Carter and Brosnan. On second-and-1 from the 26, BJ Murillo put Bishop into the lead by hauling in a 26-yard pass from Carter with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
“They just sent me on a post pattern and I split the two safeties, and Carter threw a great pass and I was there to catch it,” said Murillo.
Bishop put together another time-chewing drive, holding the ball for nearly nine minutes from the end of the third quarter until 5:04 left in the game.
Again, the Cardinals defense won the battle in the trenches and forced the Rangers to punt.
“That was a real physical battle taking place on both sides of the ball,’ Crawford said of the play in the trenches.
The next time Nordhoff got the ball it tried a long pass into the end zone but Murillo picked it off with 1:58 remaining.
All Bishop had to do was run out the clock, but it coughed up the ball on a handoff and the Rangers recovered.
With the crowd going crazy, the Cardinals made the big plays on defense, thwarted the Rangers and started celebrating a Tri-Valley League championship.
“Every game in the Tri-Valley League, because of the quality and size of the athletes and the rosters and so forth, is going to be a battle,” Crawford said. “To see our guys make it all the way through undefeated in league, is a credit to how hard they work.”