Bishop Diego pulls out another close one, 29-23

Playing close games has become the norm for the Bishop Diego football team during the first three weeks of the season.

The Cardinals recovered a bad snap with 18 seconds left and held off a strong La Salle team, 29-23, in a non-league game Saturday night at La Playa Stadium. It was their third straight win decided by less than nine points.

“It’s odd you get three in a row and this tight down to the wire,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said. “I think our kids have learned not to count themselves out, and tonight we learned you don’t count the other team out either.

“I really like this group in terms of how hard they play and continue to play,” he continued. “They know good things happen to them when they keep playing really, really hard. We’re young enough where that’s a great lesson for these guys to pick up.”

La Salle was driving for a potential game-winning score after recovering a fumble at the 50-yard line with 2:04 to go in the game. A pair passes from quarterback Jake Caan to running back Armon Milliner put the Lancers at the Bishop 20 with 38 seconds left. After a run for no gain and an incomplete pass, the Lancers snapped the ball over the head of Caan and Bishop’s Michael Agnoli rushed in and recovered it to preserve the win.

Sophomore running back John Harris had a huge second half for Bishop, rushing for 115 yards on seven carries and scoring three touchdowns. He finished the night with 136 yards on just 11 carries.

“I started out a little slow in the first half. I think we all did,” Harris said. “But we came out in the second half and we turned it up a bit. That’s what we did.”

“I though John was excellent,” said Crawford. “One area where I think John is better than he was last year was he’s got incredible balance. He’s shown it in all three games, when he looks like he’s going down and he manages to squirm out of a tackle and keep his balance and pick up a few extra yards.”

Harris powered the Cardinals to a touchdown on their first possession of the second half, scoring on a 12-yard run to give them a 14-3 lead.

On Bishop’s next possession, he took a quick pitch, followed his blockers and bolted 37 yards up the sideline for a 21-3 advantage.

La Salle’s offense then came alive. The Lancers, who scored 77 points in their previous game, rolled down the field behind the running of Milliner, Alonzell Henderson and the passing of Caan. Milliner finished the drive with a 2-yard TD run to cut Bishop’s lead to 21-10 with 38 seconds left in the third quarter.

The momentum was totally on La Salle’s side after it recovered a Bishop fumble at the Cardinals’ 32. Milliner broke off a 23-yard run and finished the drive with an 8-yarder. A 2-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Lancers down 21-16 with 10:17 to go in the fourth quarter.

But Bishop regrouped behind the running of Harris and Michael Soracco and clutch third-down catch by AV Bennett. The stout Soracco pounded La Salle’s defense with blasts into the line and Harris finished them off with hard runs off tackle. On his third score of the night (a 10- yard sweep), he got a great lead block from Soracco.   The Cardinals went for a 2-point PAT and Harris got the job done to give them a 29-16 lead with 4:49 remaining.

“Mike Soracco, I thought, had a wonderful game, not just carrying the ball but, boy, he threw a couple of lead blocks that were tremendous,” Crawford said. “On John’s last score, he just kicked the guy out a lot.”

Harris appreciates Soracco’s play. “He makes it happen,” he said.

Soracco, a transfer from Eagle Rock, rushed for 56 yards on 17 carries.

“He’s going to get better and better the more comfortable he is with what we do offensively,” said Crawford. “But you could see how hard he runs and how low his shoulder pad level is when he’s running. He picked up a couple of first downs for us on short yardage situations that we really needed. They were a really good combination tonight.”

Before the TD, Bennett saw Stovesand in trouble and came back to make diving catch for a first down.

La Salle (2-1) kept fighting behind the running of Milliner and the passing of Caan. On an 80-yard drive, the quarterback hit Tyler Rix and Harrison MacDonald on passes of 16 and 15 yards and Milliner had runs of 20 and 22 yards to reach the end zone and make it a 29-23 game with 2:44 left.

The defenses dominated in the first half. La Salle broke a scoreless game with a 42-yard field goal by Johnny Clarizio at 10:57 of the second quarter.

Bishop answered with a 68-yard drive for a touchdown. Matt Shotwell took a screen pass from quarterback Spencer Stovesand and rambled 29 yards for the score. Jack Luckhurst kicked the first of his three PATs.

Bishop travels to Lompoc on Friday to take on Cabrillo.