Winds of change blew figuratively and literally Saturday afternoon at a super breezy Dodd Stadium.
In the first ever gridiron meeting between the private schools, Justin-Siena used 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to push past St. Vincent de Paul of Petaluma, 42-19.
Though it was a nonleague game, scheduled to fill a bye week for the Braves in the Vine Valley Athletic League, Braves head coach Brandon LaRocco was glad to see his team atone for a second-half collapse in the previous week’s 27-14 league loss to Napa High.
“I was very proud of the way our guys responded. We were in a tough spot in the third quarter. All credit to St. Vincent’s for coming out swinging,” LaRocco said. “Something that happened to us when we played against Napa was we had that kind of period of time where things changed and we didn’t respond. I am proud we took the next step this week and our guys responded with fire. That’s what we want to see from them, to overcome a little bit of adversity.”
It wasn’t the only game involving a VVAL team last week with a second-half comeback. On Friday night, American Canyon outscored Casa Grande 40-7 over the last 21 minutes in a 49-46 road loss, and Petaluma High scored all of its points in the final four minutes of a 14-13 stunner over visiting Napa High.
Justin-Siena (2-2, 1-2 VVAL) was cruising early on Saturday with a 14-0 lead after Roman Topete scored on runs of 71 and 4 yards. The sophomore running back, a Napa High transfer, is turning into a major weapon for the Braves. He finished with a team-high 174 yards on 17 carries with three scores.
“Every game is a game and I just do my best,” Topete said. “I just try and give it my best effort. I strive to score as many times as I can. I don’t really pick a number. I just do my best.”
Topete was involved in St. Vincent’s first score, too, though not by choice.
A long punt by the Mustangs (1-2) early in the second quarter pinned the Braves deep within their own red zone, and the visitors took advantage by tackling Topete in the end zone for a safety.
Justin-Siena’s Hudson Beers wasn’t fazed by the interception he threw early in the second quarter. The senior slinger reared back his arm and unloaded a 46-yard touchdown pass to Seth Morrison to give the Braves — after the third of Robert Sangiacomo’s six extra points — a 21-2 halftime lead.
The Mustangs, under the leadership of fourth-year head coach Trent Herzog, continue to churn out talent and this young St. Vincent’s side is no different. At quarterback is Cloverdale transfer Colby Furia, who found three-star prospect Dante Antonini on a 52-yard pass on the first play of the second half to start the Mustangs’ comeback attempt.
“They caught us on a good matchup on the first touchdown play,” LaRocco said. “We had been playing man for most of the first half and they were able to get Antonini on a linebacker and that’s just not a good matchup.”
The winds started to pick up in the third quarter and the Braves’ pass-heavy offense struggled heavily trying to throw right into a gusty wall. Justin-Siena’s punting game was also severely hindered, the average punt into the wind managing around 20 yards.
The Braves gained 3 total yards in the frame.
“That wind was killing us in our kicking game and it really kind of stalemated our offense a little bit,” LaRocco said. “We just couldn’t punt the ball because the wind was in our face and we kept getting stuck on our side of the 40 basically, so it put us in a bad spot. Once we got the change in the quarter and we got the wind back in our favor, we were able to kind of make things happen a little bit more.”
But not before the Mustangs, taking advantage of the wind at their backs, scored 10 more points in the quarter to make it a 21-19 game.
St. Vincent sophomore Kai Hall, named Prep2Prep’s North Coast Section Freshman of the Year in 2019 after racking up the most rushing yards in the state by a ninth-grader, slithered his way into the end zone on a 19-yard run. Juan Jimenez, who had both extra points, followed with a 31-yard field goal on the Mustangs’ following drive.
“Hall is a hard guy to tackle,” LaRocco said. “We have faced a lot of physical running backs this year, but I don’t know if we faced a guy that can make you just miss like that. Very impressive, and a lot of credit to their coaching staff for finding ways to get him the ball.”
Moments after the fourth quarter began and the Braves had the wind at their backs, the game swung wildly back in their favor.
Noah Young opened the fourth with a massive sack of Furia that pushed the Mustangs out of range for a go-ahead field goal attempt. St. Vincent briefly swung the momentum back its way by recovering a Braves fumble. But Justin-Siena’s defense got it back when Furia looked to find a receiver deep in Braves territory. Sangiacomo, a junior linebacker, jumped the route and was untouched in returning a 70-yard interception for a touchdown. He added the extra point to make it 28-19.
It didn’t take long for the Braves’ defense to strike again, and Young was at the heart of it. The senior linebacker timed the shotgun snap and was in the backfield almost as quickly as Furia received it. The quarterback fumbled the snap as Young tackled him. The ball bounced toward the Mustangs’ goal line and, after accidentally kicking it, Young picked it up and stumbled into the end zone for a 2-yard fumble return touchdown.
The pressure didn’t end for the Mustangs. On their next drive, Sangiacomo forced the ball loose from a scrambling Furia and Wyatt Humphries jumped on it for the Braves. Topete quickly found the end zone on an 11-yard scamper to put the game out of reach.
“Roman has been a nice addition to our team,” LaRocco said. “His ability to run with vision and make guys miss is really good. He is a special young player.”
Justin-Siena welcomes two-time defending champion Vintage (4-0 VVAL) for the Battle of Trower Avenue this Friday night.
WATCH NOW: JUSTIN-SIENA’S ROMAN TOPETE SCORES FROM 11 YARDS OUT IN SATURDAY’S WIN OVER ST. VINCENT DE PAUL