It’s called “Beast Mode,” a punishing style of play.
Bishop Diego’s football team put its form of “Beast Mode” on display Friday night and took down Newbury Park, 53-47, in a CIF Northern Division playoff opener at La Playa Stadium.
The Cardinals unleashed its two beast running backs and its speed-burning wide receiver on the Panthers and they couldn’t stop them. Mike Soracco pounded out 269 yards on 36 carries and scored two touchdowns; John Harris rambled 159 yards on just nine rushes and had a 66-yard scoring run to start the fourth quarter; the fleet-footed Bennett caught TD passes of 30 and 11 yards from quarterback Spencer Stovesand, had a 64 yard reception that set up Soracco’s second score and pulled off a wild 33-yard shake-and-bake scamper to set up another TD.
Bishop rolled up 521 rushing yards against the bigger Panthers (6-5), the No. 3 team from the Camino League.
“I think a lot of people were surprised,” Bishop Diego coach Tom Crawford said of the win. “I think a lot of people thought we wouldn’t be able to compete with them. This was a great win for us in terms it shows we have some great athletes and kids with big hearts.”
The Tri-Valley League champions, now 11-0, advance to a second-round game next Friday at La Playa against fourth-seeded Palmdale, a 48-14 winner over Pioneer Valley.
The Bishop defense, while it gave up 47 points, stopped Newbury Park and its sophomore phenom quarterback Cameron Rising on four straight possessions, three in the first half.
That proved to be huge because it allowed Bishop to rally from a 21-12 deficit.
“We had to get a couple of stops and we got a couple of stops in the first half,” Crawford said of the key to beating a potent team like Newbury Park. “Then we responded. We knew they were going to put points on the board. The key for us was whether we would be able to run the ball against them. And I think our kids found the answer to that in the first drive.”
The Cardinals drove 95 yards on their first possession and took a 6-0 lead on a 30-yard pass from Stovesand to Bennett. The PAT was blocked.
Newbury Park answered with 60-yard pass from Rising to Shane Sipes. Dario Longhetto’s PAT gave the Panthers a 7-6 lead.
Rising showed his speed as a runner, taking the snap and running 85 yards for a 14-6 lead.
Bishop responded with a Soracco running 14 yards for a touchdown. The 2-point conversion failed, leaving the Cardinals down 14-12.
Rising hit Ryan Matlock on a 13-yard TD pass for a 21-12 advantage.
Soracco scored on a 4-yard run to make it 21-18 with 10:22 left in the second quarter. The play was set up by a 64-yard pass play to Bennett. The Cardinals took the lead, 25-21, crossing up the Newbury Park defense by giving the ball to fullback Matt Shotwell, who ran 25 yards for the score.
The go-ahead score was set up by a spectacular 33-yard run by Bennett. On a counter sweep to the left, he was cut off by the Panthers defense, reversed his field, juked a few tacklers, picked up blockers and bolted down the right side to the 15-yard line.
The blocking by Bishop’s offensive line was incredible. Outsized by the Panthers, the front six got off the ball strong and opened holes for the running backs.
“Given the size differential in some of the spots, I was really pleased with how our guys were just keeping their heads down and grinding it and creating space,” said Crawford. If you can do that and have runners running that hard you can do some positive things.”
Newbury Park coach Gary Fabricius was impressed by the Cardinals running game.
“We’ve struggled stopping the run this year, so we knew that was their forte and we were going to have trouble,” he said. “We were hoping to slow them down a little and we didn’t slow them down very much.”
Newbury Park’s running game suffered a big blow early when leading rusher Chris Brooks suffered a knee injury on the Panther’s second play of the game. He was carried off the field.
“We have some good people. He has the element of wiggle and speed,” said Fabricius.
Bishop carried its momentum into the second half and scored on its first possession. The Cardinals drove 77 yards on 10 plays (8 of them running plays) and scored on a 9-yard pass from Stovesand to Bennett. Jack Luckhurst’s PAT made a 32-21 game.
The Cardinals defense forced Newbury Park to punt and the offense responded with another touchdown drive, this one covering 74 yards. Soracco broke off runs of 12 and 31 yards and Stovesand capped the drive with a 17-yard TD pass to Will Goodwin for a 39-21 advantage.
Soracco punished Newbury Park defenders with is hard running.
“Boy, did he run hard,” Crawford said. “And with John (Harris) being healthy enough, we were able to let him go. Our running backs ran hard and I think everybody played as hard as they could play.”
“Down there they don’t face good running teams,” Soracco pointed out.”So, we knew what we had to do and that was run the ball. That was the only way we were going to be able to win this game. And that’s how we did it.”
Soracco praised the blocking by the offensive line.
“I think it’s just how quick you are and just how low you are,” he said of the keys to the line’s success. “We practice all the time getting low and the lowest man wins.”
“They ultimately will lead us to victory,” said Stovesand of the O-Line.
Rising got Newbury Park going again, completing passes three straight passes, the last one for a 49-yard touchdown to Shane Spikes. Rising was sacked by Harris on a two-point conversion try, leaving the Panthers down 39-27.
Harris then hurt the Panthers with his running. He broke off a 66-yard run, shredding defenders on his way to the end zone. The PAT by Luckhurst put the Cardinals ahead 45-27 with 11:47 to go in the game.
“It’s great as a quarterback,” Stovesand said of the potent running attack. “The running game really sets up you up passing-wise. That’s why we were able to get passes off because our running game is so strong. Mike Soracco and John Harris, the two beasts, makes my job really easy.”
The lead was by no means safe against Rising. He led the Panthers down the field quickly and hit Andrew Noble for a 7-yard touchdown to make it 46-34 with 9:29 to go. Rising completed 23 of 38 passes for 318 yards.
Newbury Park (6-5) tried an onsides kick and thought it recovered the ball, but the officials ruled the Panthers touched the ball before it went the necessary 10 yards. That gave Bishop the ball at the Panthers’ 49.
Facing a fourth-and-7 at the 32, Stovesand found Shotwell for a 7-yard completion to keep the drive alive. Harris broke off a 19-yard run on the next play and two plays later Stovesand sneaked into the end zone from 1 yard for a 53-34 lead.
Newbury Park struck twice more and tried two more onsides kicks that Bishop recovered. Shotwell fell on the last one and the Cardinals ran out the clock to finish one of the program’s biggest wins.
Shotwell said the preparation for a game like this started back in May.
“We were working out at 6:30 in the morning, trying to get bigger, knowing we were going to face schools that are going to be way above our size. We wanted to show that we can play, too,” he said.
“I can’t even put it into words what it feels like,” Shotwell added about beating a big school like Newbury Park. “Bishop has been the best four years of my life and I don’t want it to end. Just being able to come out and beat this big school, a lot of us were doubting, I guess. We were worried, but we all knew we’d come through.”
Added Stovesand: “The thing we got out of it last year is we have to be physical. We weren’t expecting how big and physical (division playoff opponents) would be. We knew what it took to win and that was to run all over them.”
In “Beast Mode.”