RICHMOND — It’s safe to say both St. Helena and Salesian entered Saturday’s CIF North Coast Section Div. 5 quarterfinal playoff football game with some pent-up energy.
Neither team had played in almost in month due to postponements and cancellations caused by poor air quality stemming from smoke drifting down from the Camp Fire in Butte County.
So when seventh-seeded St. Helena and the No. 2 Pride met at Salesian, offensive fireworks followed.
When the dust cleared, it was Salesian that stood triumphant, 49-28.
The Pride put up over 500 yards of offense – 252 passing and 259 rushing – and recorded 29 first downs to the Saints’ 13. Salesian star junior quarterback Ronald Robertson threw five touchdown passes – four to junior receiver Kailan Chang, who had a game-high 186 receiving yards on seven catches.
St. Helena kept up as best it could but was ultimately overpowered, ending its season at 7-5.
“They capitalized on every opportunity they got when they got the ball in our territory,” St. Helena head coach Brandon Farrell said. “We weren’t expecting perfection in this situation, but I did feel like our effort gave us a great shot to compete and to win. They just did a better job of capitalizing.”
Proof enough of Farrell’s statement was how the fourth quarter began. St. Helena trailed, 42-28, but had momentum. The Saints had just scored and taken the ball back after Salesian (7-4) mishandled it on the kickoff, giving the visitors possession at the hosts’ 26-yard line.
A touchdown would have made it a one-score game with almost a majority of the fourth quarter remaining, but that scoring drive never materialized. On the Saints’ second play of the drive, a reverse play resulted in a 10-yard loss, putting them in a crucial late-down and long-yardage situation. They couldn’t convert, turning the ball over on downs at Salesian’s 22-yard line with 11 minutes left.
Five plays later, Robertson hit Chang for a 50-yard touchdown pass that sealed the win.
“We were right there” Farrell said. “You get down there, you think you have a reverse and they come around and make it third and 15 or whatever it was and that put us in a hole. We’re just not that type of team.”
Salesian advances to the semifinals, where it will host No. 3 seed Stellar Prep-Oakland.
Saints freshman Ivan Robledo led the team in rushing yards for the fourth straight game, running for 186 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He also caught two passes for 24 yards and another score.
Junior Cody DiTomaso chipped in 58 yards on eight carries, while senior Luis Robledo had 39 yards on four carries and a score. Saints junior quarterback Daniel Martinez ran seven times for 35 yards and a touchdown and was 4-for-5 passing for a season-high 67 yards with one touchdown.
Out of that group, the Saints will return all but Luis Robledo.
Farrell highlighted the senior class in his post-game speech to the team, and reinforced how important they were when asked about it later.
“They put us back in a position where we can compete at this level, and now the young kids have to take it upon themselves to push the bar a little more forward,” he said. “The pieces will fall where they may. We got a long time before that but we need to look at these seniors and take a good look at how they worked and how they’re attitudes shaped how good they made this team. That’s what I’m proud of.”
St. Helena opened the game by scoring in just two plays. Ivan Robledo took his first carry 30 yards and Martinez followed it with a 26-yard touchdown run. But the Pride offense was just getting warmed up and work into a groove, scoring three straight touchdowns to take a 20-7 lead just before the end of the opening quarter.
The Saints got another score a minute before the quarter ended on a 43-yard touchdown run from Luis Robledo that made it 20-14 heading into the second frame.
The second quarter held more of the same for each team. Salesian scored two consecutive touchdowns to surge ahead 35-14, before a 58-yard touchdown run by Ivan Robledo cut it to a 35-21 halftime deficit.
In those first 24 minutes, Salesian had 13 first downs to the Saints’ three and St. Helena had scored its three touchdowns on drives that lasted only two plays apiece.
The third quarter saw the teams trade scores and St. Helena seize the momentum going into the fourth. But missed opportunities came back to bite the Saints and end their season.
“You’re right there, and there were just too many opportunities lost for us,” Farrell said. “I can’t say anything bad about any of the kids’ play. I think that some kids didn’t have their best game today, but in other games those guys were just as key to some of our other victories. What we’re going to try to strive for is to learn from this and try to keep the bar set at a level where we get this opportunity again.”