Bishop Diego comes up short at the wire, falls to Nordhoff in semis, 24-21

Nordhoff quarterback Tanner Workman eludes a Bishop Diego defender while looking for an open receiver.

Nordhoff quarterback Tanner Workman eludes a Bishop Diego defender while looking for an open receiver.

The game appeared headed toward a fantastic finish for the Bishop Diego football team. Down by three points against defending champion Nordhoff, the Cardinals drove 72 yards in the final 3 minutes and had the ball at the 8-yard line.

They were eight yards from breaking through a CIF semifinal roadblock and reaching the final for the first time since 2007.

But it wasn’t to be. On a third-and-goal with 23 seconds left, Nordhoff put a heavy rush on Bishop quarterback Anthony Carter and Shane Hersh of the Rangers picked off a desperation pass at the 5-yard line to clinch a 24-21 victory over the Cardinals in the CIF Northwest Division semifinals before nearly 5,000 screaming fans at La Playa Stadium.

It was a heartbreaking defeat for Bishop, which was playing its first home playoff game in two years and in its third straight semifinal game.

“This team this year probably had the toughest schedule of the three that we had in the semis,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said. “They shouldn?t be hanging their heads. They played a really gutsy game against a very good team.”

Nordhoff’s defense and its kicking game proved to be the difference makers in the game. The Rangers forced a fumble after Bishop drove to the 6-yard line in the first half and converted the turnover into a 50-yard field by Cooper Garcia at the end of the half.

Then there was the defensive pressure that forced the interception at the end of the game.

“We?re just an opportunistic defense,” Nordhoff coach Tony Henney said. “We force a lot of takeaways and put a lot of pressure on you, and the kids played it. We always tell our kids, everybody can play the first play and the 20th play, but who can play the 80th play? And we played the 80th play.”

Nordhoff running back Matt Woodcock scored the game-winning touchdown on a 9-yard run up the middle with 37 seconds left in the third quarter. Quarterback Tanner Workman completed a two-point conversion pass to Austin Wolcot to give the Rangers a 24-21 lead.

Bishop had taken a 21-16 advantage when it drove 80 yards in four plays. Aidan Williams ran 27 yards for the score after taking a shovel pass from Carter.

Brandon Wadsworth returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards to give the Rangers the ball at the Bishop 33, setting up Woodcock’s score.

Earlier in the quarter, the Cardinals suffered a blow when Gabe Molina suffered a head injury while making a tackle. He was placed on a stretcher and taken to the hospital by paramedics.

“I know they wanted to win this game for Gabe,” Crawford said of his players. “There has never been any quit in this group of guys. It?s disappointing that we lost, but the way we played to the wire, I’m really proud of then.”

Nordhoff got big boost from Garcia. He booted three field goals, including a career-best 50 yarder at the end of the first half that cut Bishop’s lead to 14-13. The field goal came after the Rangers recovered a Bishop fumble at their 6-yard line.

“We know Cooper is a weapon. We think he?s one of the best kickers in the area,” Henney said. “That 50-yard field goal at the end of the half I thought it was pivotal. It was a 10-point swing from the turnover down there to the kick.”

Garcia kicked a 38-yard field goal on Nordhoff’s first possession of the game.

“Those points make a big difference in the game,” said Crawford.

Bishop responded with an 80-yard drive. Two big runs by BJ Murillo, a 42-yard pass play from Molina to Carter and a Nordhoff pass interference penalty on a third-down play set up the touchdown. Abel Gonzalez scored from the 1 and Williams kicked the PAT for a 7-3 lead.

The Rangers came right back as Woodcock ran for 56 yards and Tayler Livingston scored on a 9-yard run. Garcia’s kick put them ahead 10-7.

Nordhoff threatened again, reaching the Bishop 27 before being stopped on downs. The Rangers faked a field goal try on a fourth-and-15 but their pass play was stopped short of the first down.

The Cardinals would capitalize, driving 80 yards and scoring on a 5-yard run by Williams to reclaim the lead at 14-10.

Then came a turning point in the game. After forcing the Rangers to punt, Bishop moved the ball to the Nordhoff 16. On first down, Molina completed a pass to Murillo, who ran down to the 6 before being tackled. The ball popped loose and Wadsworth picked it and ran it back to the 47. Four plays later, Garcia kicked his 50-yard field goal.

“I?ve had it all year,” Garcia said of the leg strength to kick long field goals. “Showcasing it in a game like this is an extraordinary feeling. It?s amazing.”

Henney acknowledged the great battles his team has had with Tri-Valley League rival Bishop Diego.

“These games are unbelievable,” he said. “The crowd is into it the whole time. Their kids don?t quit. Their coaches do such a great job and it just makes for fantastic football. We?re just very fortunate that we came away with the win.”

Clinging to a three-point advantage (24-21), Nordhoff had a chance to expand the lead after a Bishop backfield miscue on a fourth-down play gave the ball back to the Rangers at the Cardinals’ 23. Bishop’s defense held and Garcia came on to try a 36-yard field goal. He missed wide left, and Bishop took over at the 20 with 3:06 to go in the game.

Carter engineered an impressive drive, completing six passes for 55 yards and rushing for 13. The Cardinals got down to the 8 with 28 seconds to go. After a spiked ball and a pass incompletion, Bishop was left with a third and goal. It had one time out remaining.

“I was trying to save the timeout for a field goal,” Crawford said. “We drove the field, the kids were looking for the win and we just tried to make too big a play. But those things happen.”