Friday Night Lights: Bishop-Nordhoff is a battle of heavyweights

It’s the opportunity the Bishop Diego football team has been waiting for since the playoff bracket was released two weeks ago.

On Friday night, the Cardinals get another shot at Nordhoff with a spot in the CIF Northwest Division final on the line. The Tri-Valley League rivals clash in a semifinal game at 7 p.m. at SBCC’s La Playa Stadium.

The teams met back on Nov. 1 in Ojai and Bishop Diego lost, 20-17, in a game in which they committed several turnovers, including a fumble in the end zone.

“Second opportunities are pretty rare, so having the chance to play a known foe in a challenging meaningful contest is all you can ask for and we welcome the opportunity,” Bishop Diego coach Tom Crawford said of the rematch

The Northwest Division final four matches the top four teams in the playoff bracket. Nordhoff is the No. 2 seed and Bishop (10-2) is third. Top-seeded Oak Park plays at No. 4 El Segundo in the other semifinal.

Nordhoff (11-1) is the defending division champion. The Rangers won the title against North Torrance, which knocked Bishop Diego out in the semifinals last year. This is the third year in a row the Cardinals have reached the semifinal round.

Bishop enters the game after impressive wins over North Torrance (34-0) and Duarte (41-7) in the first two rounds of the playoffs on the road. They beat Mission Prep (39-14), a CIF Northeast Division semifinalist, in their regular-season finale following the loss to Nordhoff.

“I do think our kids are anxious for this upcoming game but, to their credit, they had to take care of business first, which was playing good football since that Nordhoff loss and correcting some things we obviously needed to do better,” said Crawford.

The Cardinals have cut down on their turnovers, stepped up their play on defense and are running the ball with authority.

Senior quarterback/slotback/defensive back Anthony Carter has been spectacular in the playoffs. He has intercepted four passes in the two games and has made big plays on offense.

“We do need our big-time players to play a good game,” Crawford said. “AC has stepped up both offensively and defensively. He’s really playing within himself now and with confidence. But he’s the first to admit that some of his plays – like the interceptions – have had lots to do with teammates’ help, like great pressure from our defensive front.”

Senior linebacker Christian Pearson also has played tremendous for the Cardinals. Pearson, who missed last year’s semifinal with an injury, has 35 tackles in two games.

“He’s such a tough competitor that his presence this semifinal is huge for us,” Crawford said. “I know how much not having him last year hurt us, so it’s great to have him in this contest.”

Nordhoff, too, has been playing well in the postseason. The Rangers have wins of 42-0 and 38-20 over Verbum Dei and Torrance in their playoff games.

“Nordhoff is a fine team and well coached and they are confident and disciplined So, obviously, to win the game we have to play better than we did the first time around, meaning avoid mistakes that are costly (we must win the turnover battle and avoid penalties), finish drives, and limit the number of big plays they get. I know all that sounds cliché like but they are keys. We always talk about trying to be fast and physical and that is no different this game.”

Nordhoff (11-1) vs. Bishop Diego (10-2), at SBCC, 7 p.m. — Both teams have playoff experience and several playmakers on both sides of the ball. Bishop Diego is playing its first home playoff game since a first-round contest in 2011. The Cardinals have come up short in their last two semifinal appearances, at Sierra Canyon in 2011 and at North Torrance last year. Many of the seniors on this year’s squad played in both games. Nordhoff’s seniors are looking to return to the final. Turnovers proved costly for Bishop in the Tri-Valley League game at Nordhoff. Yet, even with all the mistakes, it lost by just three points. The Pick: Bishop Diego.

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