SANTA ROSA — When two of the top-flight programs from their respective North Bay counties clash in one of the marquee matchups of the football season, it’s almost certain to come down the last play.
After a sluggish first half, Cardinal Newman and Vintage traded blow after blow in a contest that was evenly matched from start to finish.
With just under a minute remaining, Cardinal Newman star running back Santino Acevedo broke a couple of tackles and found a seam up the left sideline for a 25-yard touchdown to put the Cardinals up by five points. The two-point conversion came up short, leaving the Crushers a touchdown away from winning the game.
Vintage quarterback Tytan Bradley quickly marched the Crushers down the field, and they crossed the 50-yard line with less than 10 seconds to go. With less than two seconds on the clock, Bradley rolled to his left and threw up a mighty heave. The whole stadium held its breath as the Hail Mary pass fluttered in the air, on line to complete a magical night for the Crushers.
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But the ball bounced off a couple hands and fell to the ground in between the outstretched arms of two diving Vintage wide receivers. The Cardinals ran off the field to celebrate their 34-29 victory, as the Crushers contemplated what could have been.
“We always want to play these types of programs and we feel like we are one of these types of programs. We will always play these teams because iron sharpens iron,” Vintage coach Dylan Leach said. “I am just really frustrated with the way we kind of didn’t execute right, and we’ve got to learn how to execute. When you play these programs and you don’t execute, this is what happens. So, once we learn to execute against these types of programs, it's gonna make our life a lot easier in the VVAL and also going into the playoffs, where we’re gonna see teams like this.”
Coming into this season, Vintage wanted to test itself against some of Northern California's best. After two games, the Crushers find themselves 0-2 after dropping two contests they feel they would have won had they played mistake-free football. Taking on some of the toughest the Bay Area can offer will sting in the short term, but it has the potential to pay dividends down the line. The 2018 Vintage side also lost its first two games before rattling off 10 straight victories, the last being an upset of Antioch in the North Coast Section Division I playoff quarterfinals.
“I love the fight in the kids and I love the way that we got blanked in the first half and came out and made a game of it,” said Leach. “I thought we fought to the very end and obviously we need to look into the mistakes we made. We feel like obviously if we don't make these mistakes, these results won’t happen. I mean we had the ball and control of the game, but credit to them. They played really tough and that is a great program.”
Vintage kept the Cardinals offense in check during the first half, as the hosts only managed 72 yards of total offense. Unfortunately for the Crushers, the absence of star running back Dylan Smith kept their offense in first gear for the opening two quarters and Cardinal Newman had a 7-0 lead at the break.
Though most high school teams are switching to more of a spread offense or high-powered passing game, the Crushers’ old-fashioned style of smashing their opponents against a cheese grater for three hours can be tough to deal with. It appeared the second half would head in this direction when Vintage took less than three minutes to find the end zone. Diego Davis set the tone for the half, as the senior bashed his way through the center of the field for a 14 yard gain. The two-way player would finish the game with 14 carries for 100 yards.
“I think Diego Davis is a monster,” Leach said. “He's just a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball. I feel like between him and 23 (Acevedo), they're the best players out here tonight.”
Vintage had a chance late in the third quarter to take its first lead of the game, but an illegal formation penalty forced the Crushers to punt. The penalty hurt more than normal, as on the ensuing punt a slightly too high snap put the ball on the ground. It was kicked about 20 yards downfield before Cardinal Newman’s Kaize Steverson swooped it up and returned it 27 yards for the touchdown. This was the second time special teams helped the Cardinals, as the hosts used a blocked field goal in the first half to set up their first score of the game.
“We beat ourselves up,” Davis said. “We made a lot of mistakes ourselves and they only scored off mistakes from us. It was our loss. That’s all I got to say, just little mistakes and not being disciplined.”
While Cardinal Newman leaned heavily on Acevedo, with the junior running back racking up nearly all of his 163 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, the Crushers used a variety of weapons.
Bradley and Justin Ray swapped back and forth for Vintage under center, with Bradley scoring on a 53-yard quarterback keeper in the third quarter to bring the Crushers to within 14-13.
Vintage took its first lead with 6:10 left in the contest when senior Mosaati Schaumkel, who had some of the most bone-jarring hits on defense, showed his speed by taking a kickoff return 75 yards to the house for a 29-28 lead.
On the first play of the following drive, Louie Canepa jumped on a Cardinal Newman fumble and all the Crushers needed to do was burn four minutes off the clock. Unfortunately for Vintage, a poor handoff quickly gave the ball back to the Cardinals and Acevedo made sure the Crushers never had the ball and the lead again.
Vintage will look to pick up its first win of the year at home this Friday as it welcomes Oakland High to Memorial Stadium.
“We got to get over this now and we got to start rolling off some wins here in a row,” Leach said. “I feel that this week was so much better, preparation-wise and heart-wise. All the things we did at practice were a lot better than they were the week before, so we’re pleased with that.
“Never happy with a loss, and this is gonna hurt. It's gonna hurt pretty bad. But the sun comes out tomorrow and we got to start preparing for Oakland.”