ST. HELENA — Standing near the center of Bob Patterson Memorial Field late Friday night, a hoarse Brandon Farrell was anything but at a loss for words.
The St. Helena head coach talked about his football players’ tenacity, fight, perseverance and playmaking, all of which he had just witnessed in their season opener.
Behind a brutal rushing attack and a number of timely defensive plays, the Saints downed visiting small-school powerhouse St. Patrick-St. Vincent, 46-27, to get their 2019 campaign off to a resounding start.
“So proud of the kids,” Farrell said after talking to his team. “We battled, we practiced, we scrimmaged and we felt good about ourselves, and in the back of our minds you know that when you get into a game like this, we know our kids are going to give great effort – we saw that last week in the scrimmage – but can they give a great effort for the whole game.
“We really only played 13 (players), then we lost a couple guys to injury, so we really only had 11 guys, and we just battled. I’m so proud of them.”
The Saints amassed 477 yards on the ground thanks to four rushers. Sophomore Ivan Robledo (15 carries, 217 yards, three touchdowns), senior Cody DiTomaso (17 carries, 150 yards, two touchdowns), and juniors Daniel Martinez (10 carries, 49 yards) and George Cutting (two carries, 61 yards and a touchdown) accounted for all of the Saints’ offense against the Bruins.
St. Helena led 22-14 at halftime, but saw that lead cut to 22-21 less than two minutes into the second half. Things got dicey on the following play as Robledo turned the ball over via fumble and then exited the game with cramps. He played only one more offensive snap in the game – a 40-yard run on the Saints’ last drive of the game in the fourth – but luckily for the Saints, his efforts weren’t necessary down the stretch.
Aside from the relentless rushing attack, what inevitably led them to victory was their defense. One play after Robledo’s third-quarter fumble, the Saints forced a St. Pat’s fumble and got the ball back at their own 33-yard line. On the next play, DiTomaso sprung free and went 67 yards to the house to give the Saints some much-needed breathing room at 30-21.
DiTomaso also made a key defensive play earlier in the game. He intercepted Bruins junior quarterback Ja’vione Shepherd at St. Helena’s goal line late in the second quarter, which set up a scoring drive that gave the Saints their halftime lead.
But after his long scoring run in the third, St. Pat’s answered with a score of its own to make it 30-27. The Saints proceeded to fumble on their next two possessions, but managed to keep the Bruins from scoring again in the frame.
Meanwhile, after a relatively quiet first half, Cutting scored on a 54-yard touchdown run with 28 seconds left in the third quarter to give St. Helena a 38-27 lead going into the final frame.
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On the ensuing St. Pat’s drive at the start of the fourth, Cutting stepped up again. This time, he picked off Shepherd at St. Helena’s 3-yard line in what inevitably would be the last real scoring chance for the visitors.
With a little under nine minutes left, St. Helena proceed to drain the clock all the way down with an 11-play, 97-yard drive capped by a 5-yard DiTomaso touchdown run that gave the Saints the 46-27 lead they rode out till the final buzzer sounded.
“To end on a 97-yard drive, turnover inside the 5, and just how happy the kids are for playing the way they did, I’m really happy for them,” Farrell said.
DiTomaso said he and his teammates kept their eyes on the prize.
“We were getting beat up out there,” he said. “But we just had the mentality that we wanted to set the season off right and we wanted to set that momentum so we kept pushing, kept motivating ourselves even. We just kept fighting the whole game.”
That fight was necessary after they were on the wrong side of several big plays earlier in the game. Bruins junior running back Bobby Brooks (24 carries, 150 yards, 1 touchdown) got his team on the board with a 67-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Shepherd got their second on an 87-yard scamper to the house later in the frame.
Big plays like that were a thorn in the Saints’ side all last season and were key factors in a number of their losses. But this is not last year’s team.
“I feel like this team has learned to overcome when we have big plays against us,” DiTomaso said. “We’ve learned to keep moving forward and keep fighting so we can have those big plays as well.”
As for the four turnovers, three of which came over an eight-minute span in the third quarter? Well, it is the first game of the season, after all.
“Yeah, it was a little sloppy at times, but it is what it is,” Farrell said. “We’re fighters and we’re going to fight every single step of the way.”
The Saints will look to bring that fight back to Bob Patterson Memorial Field next week when they host Sir Francis Drake on Friday at 7:30 p.m.