ST. HELENA – A promising first half was about all the St. Helena High football team could smile about Friday night.
The Saints held a 14-6 lead at the break but were shut out while committing four turnovers in the second half of a 30-14 loss to Fort Bragg on Friday at Bob Patterson Memorial Field.
“We were looking real good at halftime,” said St. Helena head coach Brandon Farrell. “I felt strong. I felt like we were controlling the line of scrimmage in a lot of ways. And then they found a couple little wrinkles that worked for them and they just went at us and we didn’t respond. Unfortunately, we gave the ball back to them in some good field positions so that doesn’t help either.
“Four turnovers. We can’t win with four turnovers.”
With the loss, the Saints fall to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the North Central League I. They not only drop to fourth place in the NCL I, leapfrogged by the Timberwolves (4-4, 3-2), but are now also in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight season.
St. Helena quarterback Daniel Martinez completed 4 of 12 passes for 48 yards and added 42 more yards on the ground on 13 carries, but the sophomore committed three turnovers as well. He was picked off in the end zone on the Saints’ opening drive of the game, then lost two fumbles in the second half that both led to Fort Bragg scores.
Other than the end-zone interception in the first quarter, the Saints were in control at halftime. Luis Robledo scored on a 60-yard run four minutes into the second quarter and Cody DiTomaso added a 5-yard touchdown run near the end of the quarter. Robledo paced the Saints with 86 yards on eight carries, while DiTomaso finished with 66 yards on 18 carries.
But the Saints’ 14-6 halftime advantage disappeared quickly in the second half.
St. Helena went three-and-out on its first drive out of the break, but pinned Fort Bragg at its own 12-yard line. The Timberwolves wasted little time flipping the field, however. Their first two plays were a 21-yard pass and a 47-yard run. Five rushing plays later, William Robertson scored from 2 yards out and converted the two-point try to tie the score at 14-14.
That was the only score of the night for Robertson, but the senior back would torch the Saints’ defense for a game-high 181 yards on 28 carries.
St. Helena looked to answer, but DiTomaso fumbled on the first play of the ensuing drive. The Saints’ defense made a stand and forced a three-and-out, but saw their next drive also get derailed by a turnover, a fumble by Martinez at midfield.
A 30-yard pass from quarterback Jullian Clavelle gave the Timberwolves field position deep in St. Helena territory. Four plays later, Clavelle took it in himself from 4 yards out for one of his three rushing touchdowns in the game.
On the night, he rushed 17 times for 60 yards and completed 3 of 8 passes for 52 yards. His 30-yard pass with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter was his last attempted pass of the game, as the Timberwolves took the ground to keep the clock running.
The Saints never recovered after the third quarter. They had coughed the ball up twice, gained just 32 yards on offense, and fallen behind 22-14.
Granted, down only eight with a full quarter left, the door was not closed on the Saints just yet.
But like it did all evening, the turnover bug kept biting.
Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Martinez fumbled again. The Timberwolves took over at midfield and needed only seven plays for another touchdown and two-point conversion.
From there, the teams traded empty possessions before Granados fumbled after catching a pass from Martinez with a little over a minute left in the game. That was the final nail in the coffin.
The Saints coughed the ball up a season-high five times on the night. Farrell knows that with a young team like his, turnovers will happen. It was just the high number and ill-timing that frustrated him.
“I’m never happy about turning the ball over,” the coach said. “We’ve been a pretty decent turnover team on offense for most of the season, and today it just reared its ugly head. I’m disappointed they all happened at once, but I’m not disappointed they happened. We knew it was going to happen, it just happened all at once.”
The Saints have another tough test looming next Friday, when they travel to Cloverdale (6-2, 4-1). The Eagles dispatched Clear Lake 41-27 this week and at 4-1 in league play are tied with Middletown for second in the NCL I.
“We were doing a lot of good things in the first half, we really were,” Farrell added, “and when they counter we just haven’t been able to counter back. Maybe we did it against Clear Lake, maybe we did it against some other teams, but we’re 4-4 so we got to look at this as a two-game playoff opportunity for us and just take it one game at a time.”