Bishop Diego’s amazing run ends at North Torrance

TORRANCE — “We didn’t make the plays in critical situations and they did.”

That’s how Bishop Diego football coach Tom Crawford summed up the Cardinals’ 28-14 loss to North Torrance in the CIF Northwest Division semifinals on a foggy Friday night in Torrance.

The loss ended an amazing 12-0 run for Bishop, which was seeded first in the division and played all three of their playoff games on the road. North Torrance (11-2), the No. 4 seed, advances to the final against Nordhoff next Saturday.

Bishop was very much in the game until a devastating turn of events in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals got the ball at their 34-yard line after North Torrance had just scored to take a 20-14 lead with 7:12 to go. On first down, they fumbled a pitchout and defensive lineman Keith Thompson of the Saxons recovered at the 29.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s one of those things that happened. That was pretty tough,” said Crawford.

Three plays later, quarterback Jorge Hernandez ran two yards for a touchdown, increasing North’s lead to 28-14.

Now riding a huge wave of momentum, the Saxons followed their big score with an onside kick and recovered it at the Bishop 48.

Crawford complained that the kick was not legal because it put his player in a dangerous position.

“Our guy by himself was getting lit up by six of their guys,” he said.

Crawford said the officials ruled the kick was OK because the ball passed the necessart 10 yards and the Bishop player had a chance to field it.

“I’d like to see that on tape before I make any further comment,” said Crawford. “That was pretty tough, too.”

By getting the ball back, the Saxons were able to kill time off the clock with a couple of first downs before BJ Murillo intercepted a Hernandez pass.

With a little more than 2 minutes left, the Cardinals drove to the North 23 before Junio Juarez picked off a pass near the goal line to seal the Saxons’ trip to the final.

Despite giving up a couple of fourth-down conversion plays on the opening drive, Bishop Diego’s defense hung tough and finally stopped the Saxons on a fourth down by dropping the elusive Hernandez for a 9-yard loss.

With the Cardinals doing a good job of mixing up their plays, they drove to the North 3 on their first possession. Facing a fourth-and-goal, they elected to go for the touchdown but came up short as quarterback Anthony Carter was dropped at the 2.

Bishop fumbled the next time it got the ball, but the defense stepped up and forced North to punt.

On a drive that featured five different ball carriers. the Cardinals marched 71 yards and broke the scoreless game on a 12-yard run by Aidan Williams at the 5:15 mark of the second quarter. Enzo Troiani kicked the PAT for a 7-0 lead.

North Torrance responded with a nice drive of its own. After a shaky start, the Saxons’ talented receiving corp of Devante Jenkins and Michael Jurado started catching Hernandez passes. Jurado caught a big 12-yarder on a fourth and 5 at the their 47 and Jenkins hauled in three passes, including a 13-yard lob in the corner of the end zone for the tying touchdown with 2:34 left in the first half. Joey Wolfe kicked the PAT.

The fourth-down conversions were huge for North.

“We can’t give the other team the ball when it’s a team like Bishop Diego that can ran the ball really well and take time off the clock,” said North coach Todd Croce of going for it on fourth down. “We want to keep it in our offense’s hands most of the time and risk it — but a pretty calculated risk. We did a nice job on fourth downs.”

The game experienced a big turnaround early in the third quarter. Bishop’s BJ Murillo thrilled the large group of Bishop fans by returning the second-half kickoff 92 yard for a touchdown. But it was nullified by a block-in-the-back penalty at the Cardinals’ 23. They ended up going three and out and North took over at its 27.

Again, Hernandez connected with his favorite targets. He hit Jurado for a 40-yard gain and followed with a 26-yard strike to Jenkins, putting the ball at the Bishop 2. Running back TJ Young scored on a 2-yard run to give North a 14-7 lead at 7:44 of the third quarter.

“They are well aware of the type of defenses that are out there and they know where to go,” Croce said of his two star receivers.

Jenkins led the team with 7 catches for 124 yards. Hernandez completed 19 of 31 passes for 242 yards.

“We were playing zone, and they have maybe two of the best receivers in the division,” said Crawford. “Their quarterback is a smart kid and he knows where to put the football. You try to take away the slant, they’re going to throw the fade on you. It’s tough when you’re still trying to put pressure on the quarterback. He’s such a scrambler and you can’t let him sit back there and run around;, he’s going to find guys open.

“I thought, particularly in the first half, we did a nice job putting pressure on the quarterback,” Crawford added. “He got into a little bit of rhythm in the second half with those slants and took his shots with those fades as well.”

After falling behind, the Cardinals showed their toughness and put together a 70-yard drive to tie the score. Rushes by Gregson, Carter, Williams, Gabe Molina and Abel Gonzalez set up the touchdown, a beautiful 21-yard strike from Molina to Nolan Tooley in the back of the end zone. Troiani’s kick made it 14-14 with 2:28 left in the third quarter.

The teams slugged it out a couple of possessions before Hernandez put together an impressive 81-yard, 10-play drive for the Saxons. Besides using his arm on three passes to Jenkins, the senior quarterback gained yards with his feet. He scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 16-yard scamper. North failed on the PAT after a bad snap, leaving the score 20-14 with 7:12 to go.

That was plenty of time for Bishop to come back, but the untimely mistake happened and North capitalized on it to put the game out of reach and end the Cardinals’ season.