Bishop blows out Palmdale to earn semifinal berth

Bishop Diego turned the battle of unbeatens into a blowout.

The Cardinals capitalized on three first-half turnovers by Palmdale, roared to a 41-0 lead and punched their ticket to the CIF Northern Division football final four with a stunning 48-6 victory over the division’s No. 4 seeded team at La Playa Stadium on Friday night.

Bishop Diego (12-0) will now travel to No. 1 and undefeated Camarillo next Friday for a semifinal game.

Like they’ve done all season, the Cardinals dominated Palmdale with their punishing running game and aggressive defense. Mike Soracco rushed for 194 yards on 24 carries and scored three touchdowns; John Harris bolted 58 yards for a score, carrying a Palmdale defender for the last 15 yards; Matt Shotwell, noted more of his hard-nosed play as a linebacker, returned a fumble for a score, ran for a TD, and threw a touchdown pass.

Palmdale (11-1) avoided the shutout when quarterback Nathaniel Myles scored on a 6-yard run on the Falcons’ opening drive of the second half.

“I really give the kids credit,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said. “They continue to take one game at time. They haven’t let games get too big for them. It’s been just going out and playing and trying to play one play at a time. They’ve done a really good job. The result will be the result but we’re going to give it an effort. And you see that in their approach.”

The Cardinals got off to a rocky start as they fumbled at midfield on their first possession. But the defense stepped up and forced the Falcons to punt.

Bishop punted on its next possession but Palmdale fumbled the ball and the Cardinals recovered at the Falcons 21 . Soracco was dropped for a 3-yard loss on first down, but quarterback Spencer Stovesand responded with a pass to AV Bennett for a 12-yard gain. Soracco pounded the Falcon defense for runs of 8 and 3 yards before going over from the 1. The PAT was missed, leaving the score 6-0.

“It was really great to see how we reacted after the real shaky start, and to see them very quickly play at an even keel and perform like we did,” said Crawford.

Palmdale’s talented sophomore running back Richard Newton broke off a 25-yard run to get the Falcons going after the Bishop TD. But the Cardinals defense stiffened and forced another punt.

“We were worried about their speed and I thought we contained that pretty well,” said Crawford.

Soracco tore through the Palmdale defense for a 43-yard run and  Shotwell picked up 22 yards on a pass from Stovesand, putting the ball at the 11. The Cardinals then threw something totally different at Palmdale: a halfback pass, with Shotwell throwing the ball. He found AV Bennett at the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Jack Luckhurst kicked the PAT for a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Austin Bohnett puts a jarring hit on Palmdale's Chris Simmons to force a fumble. Matt Shotwell picked up the ball and ran it 22 yards for a touchdown during the second quarter.

Austin Bohnett puts a jarring hit on Palmdale’s Chris Simmons to force a fumble. Matt Shotwell picked up the ball and ran it 22 yards for a touchdown during the second quarter.(Photos courtesy of Janice Graham)

“He’s always asking me if I want him to ‘air it out’ as he swings his arm,” Crawford said of giving Shotwell the chance to throw the ball. “He came over and said he was actually scared I made the call. He did a nice job and put it on AV. (The Falcons) were jumping up for the run at that stage. That was nice play.”

Shotwell couldn’t believe he was getting the opportunity to throw a pass in the game.

“Spencer comes up to me and says, ‘Matt, it’s your time to shine.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ I thought I was going to get a run. He says, ‘Halfback pass.’

“I’m like, ‘Oh, boy.’ We practiced it all week but I hadn’t completed it. ‘Let’s just hope for the best.’”

Shotwell rolled to his right before lofting the ball toward the end zone.

“I thought I’ll just run the ball but I saw three guys coming at me, so that wasn’t an option,”  he said. “I saw Alvoid break out of the corner of my eye and I just tossed it up and luckily he came down with it.”

Palmdale, meanwhile, continued to struggle offensively.

“I thought we were in pretty good shape when we caused that fumble. Then we couldn’t capitalize offensively,” Palmdale coach Jeff Williams said. “We were struggling. We couldn’t catch any passes in third-down situations, we weren’t moving the sticks. They created some situations where they had a short field to work on.

“It snowballed on us pretty quick,” he continued. “They played well; they out-disciplined us.”

Harris was like an avalanche to the Falcons. He broke outside and rumbled down the field, carrying a defender for the last 15 yards.

“It just showed his strength as a sophomore. I thought he was going to go down three times in that last 20-25 yard. (He and Soracco) are really running hard to get in the end zone,” said Crawford.

John Harris scored on a 58-yard run.

John Harris scored on a 58-yard run to give the Cardinals a 20-0 lead. (Janice Graham photos)

It took all of 18 seconds for the Cardinals to strike again. This time it was the defense that scored. On first down at the 25, Austin Bohnett drilled  Palmdale receiver Chris Simmons, forcing a fumble. Shotwell scooped up the ball and ran it in for the touchdown and 27-0 lead with 8:04 left in the second quarter.

“Oh, my goodness, talk about laying the hat at the corner position,” said Shotwell of Bohnett’s big hit. “That was the biggest hit I’ve ever seen him or any of the DBs put on somebody. I was really impressed with him.”

So was Crawford.

“It was a form-perfect tackle,” Crawford said. “And to see (the ball) pop up and Matt Shotwell scoop it and score, that was great. We did a nice job stringing some things out when they’re trying to get to the perimeter. I think the runner was surprised Austin closed on him that fast, because he was trying to cut inside Austin. That (score) was huge for us because it gave us comfort in terms of the margin.”

And the Cardinals weren’t done.

Isaiah Veal intercepted Myles and Bishop capitalized with another touchdown. Soracco scored on a 1-yard run, increasing the lead to 34-0.

Bishop’s defense and slew of penalties derailed the Falcons on their next drive.

“It was great to see us defensively play relaxed, fast and physical, more so than we did in the last game,” said Crawford

The Cardinals went on to  finish the half with one more scoring drive. They went 74 yards in nine plays, with Soracco scoring from the 1 to make it 41-0.

Newton led Palmdale down the field for its only touchdown. He ran for 59 yards on a 64-yard drive that Myles finished. Newton rushed for 141 yards on 19 carries.

Soracco scored his third TD to end the scoring.

“Everyone really underestimates us, that’s what I think,” said Soracco about Bishop’s tremendous playoff run in Division 3. “We’re a small school but you can only put 11 on the field, so that’s all that matters to me.”

Said Shotwell on reaching the semifinals: “I don’t think anyone thought it was possible. We’re happy, we’re looking forward it. Now we have a shot at going to the CIF Finals.”