Bishop prepares for a heavyweight battle in quarterfinals

Bishop Diego’s defense will tackle its toughest test in Friday night’s CIF East Valley Division quarterfinal football game at Twentynine Palms.

Brandon Gonzalez is the Cardinals' leading rusher for the season.

The Cardinals will be battling a team that averages about 250 pounds on the offensive line and has a bulldozing running back who’s listed at 6-2, 235 pounds.

“Well, certainly Twentynine Palms is the biggest team we will have faced this year,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said. “They will outweigh us by a minimum of 40 pounds per man when we line up.”

The Wildcats have used their size and the running of Christian Fui Fui to rack up a 9-2 record. Fui Fui carries the offensive load, rushing for 1,061 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns.

“He is a north-south-type runner,” Crawford said.

The game starts at 7 p.m. and will be played at Twentynine Palms Junior High School.

After giving defenses a steady dose of Fui Fui, Twentynine Palms changes it up and hands the ball off to Cruze Candelaria, Nate McClain or David Haney. The trio have combined for more than 800 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“We obviously have to use our speed and quickness to beat blocks and get guys committed to the ball.” Crawford said.

The Wildcats’ quarterback is sophomore Jake Culver. While his primary job is handing the ball off, he’s shown he can deliver the big-play pass, throwing eight TD passes in his last five games.


[poll id=”61″]Defensively, linebackers Fui Fui and Morgan Cole lead Twentynine Palms. They’ve combined for more than 160 tackles and nine sacks.

“They also have athletic defensive ends who play wide, so their philosophy is to force everything up inside to their big tackles and inside linebacker (Fui Fui).” said Crawford.

The Wildcats will face the Cardinals’ one-two running punch of Brandon Gonzalez (1,313 yards, 14 TDs) and Jack Gregson (756 yards, 9 TDs).

“We’ve been blocking well the past couple of games, so I hope we can carry that forward. Execution for us in the running game is critical in terms of moving the ball. (Quarterback) Nolan (Tisdale) also has to play well since, if they are going to play us without a free safety in some formations, he must make good reads and deliver accurately.”

Twentynine Palms has played well in the secondary, picking off 15 passes this season.

The Wildcats bounced back from a 37-0 loss against Big Bear that cost them the outright De Anza League title by beating Rubidoux, 27-14, in the first round of the playoffs.

Coach Ernest Martinez has guided Twentynine Palms to seven straight playoff appearances. The team reached the final in 2008.

Bishop Diego played in the 2007 final.

The Cardinals are on a roll, having won 10 straight. They forced seven turnovers in the 35-0 first-round win over Brentwood and capitalized on second-half turnovers to rally past rival Carpinteria the week before.

But Twentynine Palms poses a different look for the Cardinals. They’ll be in for a game of smashmouth football.

“I sense our guys are really looking forward to the challenge,” said Crawford.