Bishop steps up in 2nd half, wins in Division 3 playoff debut

Winning first-round CIF playoff games is nothing new for the Bishop Diego football team. But there was an added significance to Saturday night’s 21-14 victory over Antelope Valley at La Playa Stadium

This win came in Bishop Diego’s debut in Division 3, also known as the Northern Division.

Abel Gonzalez rushed for two touchdowns, Matt Shotwell ran for the winning score in the third quarter and the Bishop defense contained the athletic Antelopes to earn a quarterfinal-round game at Atascadero on Friday night.

“It’s a great time, it’s a great feeling,” said Gonzalez, who’s been a part of three straight CIF semifinal teams in Division 11. “We knew from Monday that a lot of people were talking that we don’t belong in this division, but we came out here and from the first kickoff we made a statement and came out and got the win.”

Center Sam Grimm led an stellar performance by the Bishop offensive line.

“We went into it knowing they were gong to be big and physical, so we prepared. AJ (Bonjiovi), Nate (Solano, Miguel (Castellanos), Hector Nolasco), we all knew what we were doing.”

The offensive line paved the way for Bishop’s running attack.

Shotwell scored on a 2-yard run with 1:23 left in the third quarter to rally the Cardinals from a 14-13 deficit. Quarterback Spencer Stovesand passed to John Harris for a 2-point conversion.

Antelope Valley twice drove the ball deep into Bishop territory in the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals’ defense came up with big plays to keep the Antelopes out of the end zone. On a fourth-and-goal from the 9, Gonzalez made big hit on the Antelopes’ star running back and San Diego State commit Jeff Clay, stopping him at the 4.

Abel Gonzalez of Bishop Diego wraps up Antelope Valley running back Ty'Rayl Martin. (Janice Graham photos)

Abel Gonzalez of Bishop Diego wraps up Antelope Valley running back Ty’Rayl Martin. (Janice Graham photos)

“We had a feeling that was coming,” Gonzalez said. “Our scout team was helping us all week, giving us good looks (at what they do). When we saw that formation, we saw sweep, we stayed in our lanes and got the great stop.”

Bishop coach Tom Crawford said he got a sense Gonzalez was going to have a big game on defense.

“His energy level at the beginning of the game was really high,” Crawford said. “Tonight, Abel set the tone early on that we were going to be aggressive getting to guys.

Later in the quarter, Antelope Valley recovered a fumble at the Bishop 46. Two big pass plays by quarterback Maurice Hawkins to Khalil Lewis and Moses Robinson-Carr put the ball at the 13. A holding penalty — one of seven holding calls against Antelope Valley — moved the ball back to the 25. Cardinals’ defensive end Michael Agnoli sacked Hawkins on the next play and then sacked him again on fourth down to end the threat.

“It was just a good call by the coach on what to do and just reading on what people were doing,” Agnoli explained. “We just stuck to principals and know what to do.”

Bishop (10-1) took over at its 30 with 6:13 left in the game and drove to the Antelope Valley 1. Penalties and a couple plays for losses pushed the ball back to the 18. The Cardinals eventually gave up the ball on downs at the 5 with less than minute to play.

Bishop took advantage of a short punt to take a 7-0 lead with 1:39 left in the first quarter. Stovesand started the drive with a 56-yard run. Gonzalez ran off 3 yards off left tackle for the score and Kohl Vemo kicked the PAT.

After forcing Antelope Valley to punt again, disaster struck for the Cardinals. They fumbled the ball at their 7 and the Antelopes recovered at the 4. Ty’Rayl Martin ran over from 4 yards to tie the score at 10:29 of the second quarter.

The Antelopes capitalized on another Bishop miscue to take a 14-7 lead. Clay blocked a punt and the ball went out of bounds at the 1. He scored on second down for a 14-7 advantage.

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At halftime, Crawford said there really wasn’t much to change other than clean up the mistakes.

“We were playing solid defensively. Offensively, we were running the ball OK,” he said. “There wasn’t a need to reinvent much. It was matter of stop making mistakes. We did that for about 14 minutes of the second half, which was enough to get us the lead.”

Bishop resorted to its potent running game to score on its first possession of the second half. Runs by Shotwell, Danny Molina, Gonzalez and AV Bennett moved the ball to the 9. Gonzalez scored on a 9-yard run to make it 14-13 with 7:47 left in the third quarter. The Cardinals came up short on a 2-point conversion run.

Bishop’s defense forced the Antelopes (6-5) to punt on their next series, and the Cardinals would score the winning TD the next time they got the ball. Stovesand made a big play on a third and 11 at the 23, firing a 21-yard pass over the middle to Shotwell.

“That was a big throw for us,” Crawford said. “I thought Spencer played very well in the second half and managed the game very well.”

Now it’s on to the Division 3 quarterfinals for the Cardinals.

“We’re kind of the underdogs,” Grimm said. “People don’t think we’re going to go far, but we have a different opinion.”

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