Late turnovers doom Bishop Diego in 42-28 loss to Oak Park

In an intense, see-saw battle that lived up to its No. 1 vs. No. 2 billing, ?Bishop Diego, the top-ranked team in the CIF Northwest Division, was beaten by Oak Park, 42-28, on Saturday night in a Tri-Valley League football game at La Playa Stadium.

The Cardinals rallied from a 21-14 halftime deficit and took a 28-21 lead early in the fourth quarter. But Oak Park stormed back behind rifle-armed quarterback Chandler Whitbord, sure-hands receiver Matt Byer, hard-running Brandon Coppel, and an excellent offensive line. The Eagles scored three unanswered touchdowns in a five-minute span to hand Bishop its first loss in TVL play in two years.

Bishop is now 7-1 on the season and 2-1 in the TVL. Oak Park, which clinched a tie for the league title, is 8-1, 3-0.

The Eagles made Bishop pay for a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter. Coppel and Eric Corsello picked off the passes, and Oak Park converted the turnovers into the go-ahead touchdown and an insurance TD.

?It was a big momentum swing,? said Oak Park coach Terry Shorten. ?It took them out of their drives.?

Bishop coach Tom Crawford said it wasn?t just the turnovers that were costly but where they occurred on the field.

In both instances, Oak Park had a short field to work with after the interceptions. After Coppel?s pick, the Eagles went 50 yards in two plays. The touchdown came on a 37-yard run by Coppel. He rushed for 129 yards on 18 carries.

Bishop snuffed out the PAT attempt, making it 34-28. With 3:40 left, the Cardinals had plenty of time to mount a come back and win the game.

But on their next possession, Corsello picked off a pass and return it to the Cardinals? 10-yard line. Oak Park got down to the 1 and, on fourth down, Whitbord scored on a quarterback sneak with 1:21 left.

?In any close game, obviously, a turnover can be a deciding thing, but there were a lot of plays that made a difference in a game like this,? said Crawford.

One of those plays was an incredible catch by Byer that tied the score at 28-28. BJ Murillo had Byer well covered, but the Oak Park receiver somehow managed to haul in Whitbord?s brilliantly thrown 28-yard pass in the back of the end zone.

The catch gave Byer a Ventura County record of 22 touchdowns receptions in a season.

Abel Gonzalez of Bishop Diego fights his way into the end zone for the Cardinals' first touchdown of the game. (John Dvorak photo)

Abel Gonzalez of Bishop Diego fights his way into the end zone for the Cardinals’ first touchdown of the game. (John Dvorak photo)

Whitbord had a terrific game for Oak Park. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 261 yards and three scores.

?His pocket presence and composure, combined with the strength of this arm, he?s a very talented young man,? said Crawford.

Whitbord got excellent protection from his offensive line.

?Our offensive line has been incredible all year. It?s been the staple of our offense,? said Shorten. ?Most of those guys play both ways. They make us go, they really do. They pass protect all night. I can?t say enough about their effort. Incredible.?

Bishop?s defense is noted for pressuring quarterback but it had a difficult time getting to Whitbord.

?We were struggling to get pressure on the quarterback, even when we were bringing in extra bodies,? Crawford said. ?Their offensive line did a great job picking guys up. I thought in the second half, particularly in third quarter, we put better pressure on the quarterback. But in the fourth quarter he delivered some nice throws and the go-ahead throw to No. 80 was pretty impressive.?

Bishop capitalized on a 16-yard Oak Park punt to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Abel Gonzalez scored the touchdown on a 4-yard run and Santiago Bollag converted the PAT. Gonzalez was the Cardinals’ leading rusher with 81 yards on 22 carries.

Oak Park answered with a 13-play, 84-yard drive. Whitbord completed passes of 10, 29 and 18 yards and Coppel scored the touchdown on a 2-yard. The PAT was blocked by Bishop?s 6-6 lineman Joe Salcedo, leaving the Cardinals ahead 7-6.

After the Eagles defense forced Bishop to punt on its next possession, Whitbord and Co. went to work. This time, they drove 80 yards, mixing runs by Coppel and passes to Byer. Byer caught a 28-yard strike for the touchdown and followed that with catch on a two-point conversion, giving the Eagles a 14-7 lead.

Bishop missed a field goal attempt, but its defense got the ball back when it stopped Oak Park on a fourth and 1. On first down, quarterback Gabe Molina hit Murillo on a short pass that the receiver turned into an electrifying 77-yard touchdown play. Bollag?s kick tied the score at 14-14 with 1:40 left until halftime.

That turned out to be enough time for Whitbord and the Eagles to retake the lead. He hit Byer on passes of 16 and 13 yards and completed the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Trent Dolabson with 37 seconds left to give them a 21-14 halftime advantage.

The first half marked the first time this season that Bishop didn?t control the line of scrimmage.

The Cardinals rectified that on their first drive of the second half. They went 56 yards, capped by an 8-yard pass from Anthony Carter to Thomas Lash for the tying touchdown.

Bishop?s defense played tougher. Carter intercepted Whitbord at the Cardinal 29 and returned it to the 46. The Cardinals scored on a 9-yard run by Gonzalez to go ahead 28-21 with 8:55 left in the fourth quarter.

But Oak Park never flinched and continued to make plays that would lead to its biggest win of the season.

?This was the shootout we expected,? Shorten said. ?I?m a defensive guy and I don?t want to see those 28 points on the board. But tonight, I?m taking it.?

While the loss ends their hope of an outright league title, the Cardinals still have plenty to play for when they travel to Nordhoff for their next game, Crawford said.

?It?s a long season and it?s still a long season,? he explained. ?We have another game like this next week against Nordhoff. It?s going to be another intense, championship-type atmosphere. At that point, we?re fighting for the second spot and the automatic (CIF playoff) berth. There will be a lot of excitement associated with that game.

?Hopefully it?s a long way to go in the season, and we have to learn from tonight?s experience.?