On Halloween night, AV Bennett came dressed as a Bishop Diego football player but he was more like a champion sprinter.
Bennett returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown and bolted 67 yards on a counter sweep for another score, leading the unbeaten Cardinals to a 35-6 win over rival Carpinteria in a Tri-Valley League game at La Playa Stadium.
The win clinches a tie for the TVL title for Bishop (9-0, 2-0) and sets up a showdown at defending champion Nordhoff on Friday in Ojai for a chance at an outright championship. Carpinteria (3-6, 1-1) can clinch second place and a CIF playoff berth with a victory against Fillmore.
It was night of big plays for Bishop Diego in the rivalry game. The Cardinals took a 7-0 lead on a fourth-down pass play from quarterback Spencer Stovesand to running back John Harris. On fourth-and-15 at the 28-yard line, Stovesand found a wide-open Harris for the touchdown. Jack Luckhurst kicked the first of his five PATs.
“We wanted to split the defenders on the right side and we had a curl on the left,” Stovesand said of the play. “I wanted to see which way the safety was going to go and he went to left side and John was wide open. That was a big boost, that really helped our team.”
It was disappointing result for Carpinteria, which played well defensively on the series.
“We played really good stiff defense right along there,” Carpinteria coach Ben Hallock said. “We didn’t give much. They had to earn that whole drive. We got down there with an opportunity to get a turnover and they came through with the big play. That hurt.”
Bennett then went to work. The CIF 100- and 200-meter champion fielded a Carpinteria punt at the center of the field, put a nifty move on the first wave of defenders, broke right, followed a wall of blockers and was off to the races along the sideline.
“The move that he made on the punt return allowed the wall to get set and then he found his way back outside the wall,” Coach Tom Crawford said. “The guys were real patient on that in terms of their blocks, but he had to make initial move.”
Bennett was honored as the winner of the G.I. Forum MVP Award.
“I cut it in and a cut it out; I had to get that corner out of my way,” he said of the punt return. “All the blockers did their job and I used their blocks to get the touchdown.”
The Cardinals stopped Carpinteria on a fourth and 6 at the 37 and then drove down field for their third touchdown. After handing off for six running plays, Stovesand went to the air and hit Matt Shotwell for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 2:14 left in the second quarter.
Bishop’s defense again stopped Carpinteria. Shotwell created havoc in the Warriors back field most of the night and linebacker Ashton Borgeson and Julian Tico also put pressure on quarterback Jimmy Graves.
“I thought we played really strong defense in the first half, and offensively we’re playing well except for penalties,” said Crawford.
Carpinteria’s defense came out inspired in the second half, forcing Bishop to punt on its first possession.
“I think we made them punt maybe more than they punted six games worth. We hadn’t seen their punt team in the games we scouted,” said Hallock.
The Carpinteria offense, however, couldn’t generate anything and punted back to the Cardinals.
“Their defense was good,” Hallock said of the Cardinals. “The Shotwell kid is a very fine linebacker and the other guys are very good, too. He has a real nose for the ball. He was tough to block and made a lot of plays.”
“We were motivated, we were pumped,” said Bennett of the defense. “Matty Shotwell did a helluva job on defense. He’s just insane at linebacker. We work hard on defense. That’s what we want to be known for, our defense.”
When Bishop got the ball, it ran its bread-and-butter play, with Bennett going in motion and taking the handoff from Stovesand. He turned the corner and kept right on going for a 62-yard touchdown run and a 28-0 lead with 8:34 left in the third quarter.
“Wheels,” Stovesand remarked about Bennett’s speed. “The fastest guy in Santa Barbara, the best athlete in Santa Barbara. I’m extraordinarily lucky to play with that kid.”
The Bishop defense was rewarded with a touchdown. Harris stripped the ball from Brandon Jordan and sped 56 yards for the score.
Carpinteria put together a nice drive and scored on a 25-yard run by Rudy Beltran.