By Albert Gregory
If there’s one mindset the Cardinal Newman High School football team can look back on and now say led to a much of this year’s success, it would be this: “Limit the mistakes!”
Newman head coach Paul Cronin yelled it from the sideline many times this season.
It’s a common message that every football coach across the country preaches. But the Cardinals (14-1) have actually done it.
Newman’s surgical offense and shutdown defense finished off a near-perfect season Saturday night, defeating El Camino High School of Oceanside 31-14 to win the CIF Division 3-AA state title in Santa Rosa.
“I think (about) the detail our kids put in during practice. I think we only had about seven turnovers all year and I think that comes down to them focusing in practice every single day. Right from the beginning, you knew they were really focused on the group and the seniors really led us this year,” Cronin said.
The Cardinals’ offense limited their mistakes by limiting turnovers, like the only interception thrown by quarterback Jackson Pavitt all year, to go with his 29 passing touchdowns.
Newman’s defense limited the mistakes by restricting the scoring, allowing an average of less than 10 points per game all year.
The Wildcats (9-7) entered the title contest on a much different road than Newman after starting the season 3-6 but winning their last six games.
Saturday’s state title came down to 17 straight points scored by Newman from the second to the third quarters and the defense not allowing a single second-half point.
“In those final snaps, all that was going through my head was all the work we put in all summer and all year, the dedication our team had, the work ethic and that’s pretty much it. I just enjoyed the last few minutes of football,” senior receiver Giancarlo Woods said.
On El Camino’s second drive of the game, the Cardinals’ Justin Lafranchi intercepted a tipped pass to put his offense on the opponent’s 25-yard line.
A screen to Shane Moran put them on the 2-yard line and he took it into the end zone on the next play with a short run.
But the Wildcats answered quickly, as quarterback Kiah Reid threw a 78-yard passing touchdown to Jacob Gaithright and tied the score.
With less than three minutes left in the half, Pavitt struck back with a quick score on a 58-yard touchdown run.
Newman led 14-7.
A short punt gave El Camino the ball at midfield to start a drive early in the second quarter, and the Wildcats took advantage scoring on a 1-yard run from Noah Sega.
The Cardinals’ offense responded again with a first-down pass to Lafranchi, followed by another long run by Pavitt, and finished the series with a 31-yard field goal by Ethan Kollenborn.
With three minutes left in the half, Newman’s offense took over on its 10-yard line. A long run on a sweep to Lafranchi put them in enemy territory, where they capped off the drive on a 35-yard touchdown pass to Woods, extending the lead to 24-14 at halftime.
The Cardinals carried their momentum into the third quarter as Moran ripped off some big chunks on the ground and through the air. Newman scored on a 1-yard run from Pavitt.
A couple costly penalties by Newman’s defense then put the Wildcats on the Cardinals’ 30-yard line, but Lafranchi came up with another clutch interception to halt the drive.
Newman led 31-14 after three quarters and ran the clock out on offense in the fourth to seal the victory.
Originally published on The Press Democrat