John Zant: Playoff fever on football field and soccer pitch

John Harris and the Bishop Diego rushing attack return to the gridiron on Friday night. (Presidio Sports Photo)

John Harris and the Bishop Diego rushing attack return to the gridiron on Friday night. (Presidio Sports Photo)

Santa Barbara spectators were wrung out last weekend from watching 15 touchdowns and one goal. They saw Bishop Diego High’s football team cross the goal line eight times in an exhilarating CIF playoff victory over Newbury Park by a score of 53-47. And they saw UCSB’s soccer team attempt 22 vain shots in the Big West Men’s Tournament championship game, an exasperating 1-0 loss to Cal State Fullerton.

The stakes will go higher this weekend for both hometown squads. Bishop Diego will host Palmdale in a showdown between undefeated (11-0) teams at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 20, at SBCC’s La Playa Stadium. UCSB, seeded 15th in the 48-team NCAA tournament, will take on the winner of a first-round game between South Carolina and Furman at 6 p.m. on Sunday at Harder Stadium.

John Zant's column appears each week in the Santa Barbara Independent.


John Zant’s column appears
each week in the
Santa Barbara Independent


CARDINAL WIN: Ralph Molina has been part of Bishop Diego football for 31 years as a player or coach. “This tops them all,” he said after the Cardinals’ victory over Newbury Park. The Panthers (6-4) had to be considered the favorite despite their record. They came out of the Conejo Valley, a cradle of powerful prep football teams. It is one of the injustices of the current Southern Section playoff alignment that a small school like Bishop was placed in the Northern Division, considered No. 3 in level of competition out of 13 divisions.

The Cardinals welcomed the challenge. “We have some great athletes and kids with big hearts,” head coach Tom Crawford said. They showed they were all business when they crisply drove 95 yards to the first touchdown of the night. Running backs Mike Soracco (269 yards in the game) and John Harris (159 yards) shredded the Newbury Park defense behind an offensive line that hit the bigger Panthers fast and hard.

“They’re used to teams that chuck the ball downfield,” said Molina, Bishop’s defensive coordinator. “Our offense is hard to defend with its multiple sets and misdirection plays.”

A dazzling sequence late in the second quarter put Bishop ahead for good at halftime, 25-21. On a third-and-23 play, speedy slotback AV Bennett took a handoff to the left side, where defenders were waiting for him; he quickly reversed his field, turned the corner on the right sideline, and scampered 33 yards to the Newbury Park 15. On the next play, quarterback Spencer Stovesand deftly shoveled the ball to Matthew Shotwell, who rumbled up the middle for a touchdown.

Bishop extended its lead to 53-34 midway through the final quarter, but the Panthers remained dangerous. Vaunted sophomore quarterback Cameron Rising led them to two quick scores, and it was a six-point game with 1:51 remaining. A successful onside kick would give Newbury Park ample time to pull off a comeback victory. That’s when Shotwell, a senior linebacker who leads Bishop’s defense in tackles, made another big play. He pounced on the skidding ball like a soccer goalie, and the Cardinals were able to run out the clock.

“The team we have, the brothers we have, we put Bishop Diego on the map,” Shotwell said. “It took lots of heart. We bend but don’t break.” Shotwell paid his teammates a compliment by calling them brothers. He has three older brothers — Kyle, Ryan, and Troy — who were football standouts at Dos Pueblos High and Cal Poly. Matthew is wearing red instead of blue, but it’s more of the same old Shotwell. He and the Cardinals will be busy Friday night coping with Palmdale’s Falcons, another talented, high-scoring team.

GAUCHO GRIEF: “We play a sport that can be cruel,” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said after his soccer team dominated the run of play against Fullerton but came up empty. Give the Gauchos an “E” for effort and an “F” for frustration. But while their attack produced a quantity of shots, only six of the 22 were on frame. The Titans got off a meager five shots; the only one on-goal was the winning score.

UCSB’s best shot may have been a 28-yard rocket by German standout Kevin Feucht that dented the crossbar in the first half. Another opportunity was a breakaway by Nick DePuy, one of the nation’s leading scorers with 15 goals. Ricardo Covarrubias tackled DePuy from behind, costing the Titan defender a red-card ejection but preventing a likely Gaucho goal. Fullerton’s Mitchell Bell scored early in the second half on a ball that rebounded off the goalpost. That was enough to deny UCSB the conference trophy.

But when all was said and done, the Gauchos (13-6-2) got a good deal from the NCAA. It recognized the entirety of their season, including victories over Stanford and UCLA, as well as the strength of the Big West (Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly received first-round berths in the tournament). It may also have mattered that UCSB is leading the nation’s colleges in soccer attendance for the ninth consecutive year.

Freshman goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg, the coach’s son, is not expected to play the rest of the year. Vom Steeg, who started 19 of 21 games, took himself out at halftime on Saturday because a chronic shoulder injury was hindering him. Brandon Berke is an experienced backup, and what the Gauchos will really need Sunday, if they hope to advance to the Sweet 16 and beyond, are some finishing touches.


  1. TheGilbertPyramid says

    That is an injustice! How does a school of Bishop Diego’s size even considered to play against schools that are seven to ten times their size? Does the CIF answer to anyone?