Bishop Diego goes ‘North’ for CIF semifinals

Bishop Diego’s football players know the heartache of falling short of reaching the CIF final.

Most of the Cardinals on this year’s team experienced it last year when they played in the East Valley Division semifinals and lost of eventual champion Sierra Canyon, 42-16.

The undefeated Cardinals (12-0) return to the section final four on Friday night, traveling to North Torrance (10-2) for 7 p.m. Northwest Division semifinal contest. Nordhoff plays at Compton Centennial in the other semifinal.

“Our squad has been in this situation before and we learned a lot last year in terms of the importance of not making mistakes and avoiding ’highs’ and ‘lows‘ during the contest,” Bishop Diego coach Tom Crawford said. “I know the game or setting won’t overwhelm us. Being on the road and in tough contests is not a negative for our guys; we are pretty confident given our success in those situations this season.”

This will be the fourth semifinal appearance for Bishop Diego in the last seven years. They reached the final in the East Valley Division in 2007, losing to Santa Clara in overtime.

The Tri-Valley League champions are the top-seeded team in the Northwest Division while North Torrance, the champion of the Pioneer League, is the No. 4 seed.

Like Bishop, then Saxons have multiple weapons on offense and score a lot of points. In their 42-34 quarterfinal win over Gladstone last week, they got a 121-yard rushing (in 9 carries), two-touchdown performance from reserve running back Corey Cox, a transfer from Serra. A 48-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter sealed the win. Earlier, he caught a 64-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jorge Hernandez that gave North the lead for good.

“He’s got some fantastic wheels and he put them to use tonight,” Saxons coach Todd Croce told the Daily Breeze after the game.

Hernandez has passed for nearly 3,000 yards. He has main targets are the reliable Michael Jurado and speedy Devante Jenkins.

Hernandez and Co. operate behind a big offensive.

“We have our work cut out for us in the semifinal.” Crawford said. “North Torrance is perhaps the most overall athletic team we have seen in terms of combined size and speed. They put up lots of points with a dynamic passing game that has two standout receivers and a very mobile strong- armed quarterback.  They are willing to throw the ball 35 times a game if need be and they spread it out with multiple receiver formations, deep throws and screens.  They are big up front which allows them to keep you honest with single back runs.

“We are going to have to slow their offense down some, keep their possessions limited and continue to force turnovers. Keeping the quarterback contained is a key for us.”

The Cardinals were able to do that in their 28-14 quarterfinal win over Village Christian. Defensive back BJ Murillo had three interceptions in the red zone and linebacker Christian Pearson returned a pass tipped by 6-6 Joe Salcedo 77 yards for a touchdown.

As for the offense, Crawford said the team knows it can play better than it did against Village Christian.

“The good news is that our group understands the importance of improving individually and, to a person, felt that we had not performed at our potential in the quarterfinal — although I give Village a lot of credit for their effort and preparation.  We are focusing on assignments and finishing this week which are two critical things we must do better to beat North.”

The key, Crawford noted, is to be patient and keep the Saxons off balance.

“The fact that they have over 2100 kids in the school, which allows them a bigger roster and the ability to platoon, means we must be in control of the game and pace,” he said.

The teams have two common opponents: Oak Park and South Torrance. North Torrance blanked the Eagles 27-0 in the first round of the playoffs and beat South 36-28 in a league game. Bishop routed Oak Park 49-7 in TVL play and defeated South 43-9 in its playoff opener.