Justin-Siena High School had its rushing offense going Friday night. The Braves also played some big-time defense.
The result was a successful start to the CIF North Coast Section Division IV playoffs, as the Braves, the No. 1 seed, hammered St. Mary’s-Albany, 48-14, on a rainy night at Dodd Stadium.
Marcus Armstrong-Brown scored three touchdowns — two scores on running plays from the quarterback position and the other on a 60-yard interception return late in the fourth quarter — as Justin-Siena (9-2 overall) advanced to see another week of playoff football.
Armstrong-Brown scored on runs of 56 and 47 yards, capping a night in which he ran for 150 yards and directed the offense with precision and poise.
“He was spectacular. I thought that was icing on the cake, that last interception,” said coach Rich Cotruvo.
Steven Lum scored two touchdowns, on runs of 7 and 35 yards, and finished with 63 yards rushing in the quarter-final round game.
Austin Connolly ran 15 yards for a touchdown and had 120 yards rushing, leading a big-play offense.
“Our defense played great and the offense really played well,” said Cotruvo. “We’re really concerned about our special teams — that was the down spot. But in these difficult conditions, they played very well. They responded to all the adversity that was brought to bear. I’m really happy and proud of them.
“I thought Steven Lum emerged tonight. He ran well. The lines were just blocking all night. We played like a No. 1 seed in responding to adversity. I think execution-wise, we can do a lot better. This team still hasn’t peaked yet. We’re going to go scouting (Saturday).”
The win means that Justin-Siena will have a Thanksgiving Day practice next week as it prepares for a North Coast Section semifinal game on Nov. 23 or 24 against the winner of tonight’s Arcata-Fort Bragg game.
As the top seed, the Braves got a first-round bye last week.
Justin-Siena is not a league champion, but a new NCS rule this year allows for the higher seeded team to host after the first round.
Justin-Siena has the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
In past years, Justin-Siena has had to travel to distant places, such as Ferndale and Eureka and McKinleyville, even though the Braves were a higher seed. It was because the NCS awarded home field to a league champion.
“I think this win I going to give us some momentum,” said Armstrong-Brown. “It’s definitely a confidence booster from what happened last year when we played Willits and lost (in the playoffs). I just think everybody’s excited to win and ready to work harder for next week.
“The offensive line was stellar tonight, creating big holes and just making big cut-back lanes for our running backs to get nice runs.”
The Braves were very good on defense, especially in the second half. They forced St. Mary’s to turn the ball over on downs on four straight possessions.
“We worked really hard at covering their receivers and getting pressure on them, and for the most part we did a pretty good job. The key was we stopped them in the red zone. A good start,” said Steve Vargus, Justin-Siena’s defensive coordinator.
Justin-Siena took a 20-7 lead at halftime, scoring three touchdowns and getting a quality effort from its defense in forcing five punts and holding St. Mary’s to just 15 yards rushing.
Armstrong-Brown’s 56-yard touchdown run with 9:04 to go in the first quarter on third and 1 and capped a drive of 65-yards drive on three plays.
The Braves went ahead 12-0, driving 44 yards in nine plays, culminating in Lum’s 7-yard touchdown run with 4:12 to go in the first period. The key plays in the drive were Lum’s 14-yard run and Armstrong-Brown’s 16-yard pass to Keagan Stanier.
A 75-yard, eight-play drive culminated in Connolly’s 15-yard run with 7:34 to go in the first half. Armstrong-Brown had the two-point conversion run.
Connolly had a 38-yard run during the drive, leading to his score.
Justin-Siena had one turnover in the first half, a fumble at the St. Mary’s 15-yard line in the second quarter.
The Braves punted once and had 264 yards of total offense, almost all of which was by rushing the ball.
St. Mary’s first-half score came on Kevin Flemer’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Coleman in the second quarter, capping a drive of 86 yards in nine plays.
William Boyd, Jr. scored on a 1-yard TD run for the Braves.
Coleman returned a kickoff 96 yards for a TD for St. Mary’s. Flemer was 10 of 38 passing.
This was the second time the two teams faced each other this year. Justin-Siena and St. Mary’s (6-6 overall) met in a season-opening nonleague game back on Aug. 25, with the Braves winning, 47-14.
Justin-Siena went into the game as a bubble team in the CalHiSports.com Week 12 CIF Northern California Division III Bowl Game Rankings.