Defense makes the big plays; Bishop advances to CIF semifinals

Bishop Diego’s football team is noted for its big-play ability on offense.

But on Friday night in the CIF Northwest Division quarterfinals, it was the defense that came up with the huge plays and sparked the top-seeded Cardinals to a 28-14 victory over Village Christian at Occidental College’s Jack Kemp Stadium.

BJ Murillo intercepted three passes deep in Cardinals territory and Christian Pearson returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown to lead Bishop Diego into the semifinals for the second straight year.

The Cardinals (12-0) will travel to fourth-seeded North Torrance next Friday night.

Murillo was clutch, picking off Village Christian quarterback Jesse Henckel at the 38-yard line in the first quarter, another pass at the 5 in the second quarter and a third in the end zone in the third quarter.

“BJ, that guy has hands like glue; he could catch anything that comes toward him,” Bishop quarterback and safety Gabe Molina said.

Pearson’s pick also came in the third quarter, and it was spectacular. He reached back and caught a ball tipped by defensive tackle Joe Salcedo and then weaved up the field for a touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 21-7 lead with 8:22 to go in the quarter.

“Christian’s pick 6 really sparked us,” said running back Jack Gregson.

“That was critical,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said of Pearson’s play. “They were moving the ball on us and had some momentum. To turn around like, that was a huge play. We had a little bit of bend but don’t break tonight.”

Village Christian (7-5) cut the margin to 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on a Matt Garcia interception of a Gabe Molina pass at the 21-yard line. The Crusaders used four rushes by bruising running back John Amadeo to score, the TD coming on a 5-yard run.

The 6-2, 217-pound Amadeo rushed for 124 yards on 27 carries.

Village Christian got another turnover, when Tyler Rolls picked off Anthony Carter at the its 2-yard line. But the Crusaders were overwhelmed by the Bishop defense. Henckel was sacked by a host of defenders inside the 1 on third down. They punted to the 38 and Carter returned the ball to the 17.

Gregson scored on a 4-yard run to put the Cardinals up 28-14 with 3:19 to go in the game. Gregson, who missed several games with a knee injury, ran like his old self against a hard-hitting Village Christian defense. He gained 69 yards on 19 carries.

“It was just great being out here,” said Gregson. “It’s a good feeling (going back to the semifinals) considering where I was the last couple of months.”

Bishop locked up the victory when Troy Skinner recovered a Roman Arteaga fumble with less than two minutes to play. Another big play by the defense.

Bishop scored on its first possession of the game. Abel Gonzalez tallied the touchdown on a 19-yard run. The PAT kick failed, leaving the Cardinals up 6-0.

Murillo’s first interception set up a 20-yard field goal by Enzo Troiani, giving Bishop a 9-0 lead with 5:41 left in the first quarter.

Village Christian started to get its offense rolling behind the running of Amadeo and Arteaga. The Crusaders drove to the Bishop 12 before turning the ball over on Murillo’s second interception.

Village Christian’s defense got a big break when a Molina pass landed just out of the reach of a wide-open Thomas Lash on a third-and-8 at the Cardinal 24.

The Crusaders started a drive at their 45 and got on the scoreboard on a 39-yard pass from Henckel to Arteaga. Justin Teleng’s PAT kick made it a 9-7 game at halftime.

Bishop would respond on its first drive of the second half. Starting at their 45 after Village Christian kicked off out of bounds, Molina hit Aidan Williams on a 34-yard pass on first down. Three plays later, Gregson ran over from the 5 to give the Cardinals some breathing room at 15-7.

The defense protected the lead for the rest of the game.

Afterward, the Cardinals were making practice plans for Thanksgiving Day to prepare for another trip to the semifinals.