Narbonne of Harbor City and St. Francis of Mountain View capture D1-A and D2-A crowns. It was a wild-and-wacky finish as the Gauchos defeated Pittsburg 27-21 while St. Francis won a battle of Lancers 22-13. It is the second state title in three years for Narbonne, but it’s the first for St. Francis. Congratulations to the other CIF state champions crowned on Saturday night. We’ll be doing a separate post with writeups and an MVP named for each game on Tuesday.
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(Editor Mark Tennis authored writeup for the St. Francis-Grace Brethren game)
If ever there was a football game that resembled a play by Shakespeare it was the CIF Division 1-A Bowl Game on Saturday evening at Hornets Stadium on the campus of Sacramento State.
Narbonne of Harbor City overcame a 21-0 early second quarter deficit and proceeded to score 28 unanswered points to win a second CIF Bowl Game title in two tries with a 28-21 victory over Pittsburg. The Gauchos were the also the 1-A champion in 2015 when they defeated Concord Clayton Valley.
“We started slow in the beginning, but I knew we could play four quarters,” said Narbonne head coach Manny Douglas. “Then we started getting more connected to our defensive keys after that.”
“It was a comedy of errors,” said Pittsburg head coach Vic Galli, and how right he was.
Just like in the St. Francis of Mountain View victory over Grace Brethren (Simi Valley) in the 12:00 pm 2-A Bowl Game that preceded the 1-A contest that started at 4:00 pm, the chilly 30-plus mile per hour constant winds had a big effect on the game.
The wind was a big factor but there were several other twists and turns that led to the victory by the Gauchos (12-3), who came into the game off an impressive 56-14 win at home over Lancaster Paraclete in the Southern Regional 1-A Bowl Game. They also had come in at No. 10 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Top 50.
Narbonne did it mostly with a ground attack led by Jermar Jefferson. The 6-foot, 200-pound senior carried 28 times for 164 yards and two touchdowns. His 35-yard TD run with 10:05 left in the third quarter three plays after a Pittsburg fumble energized the Gauchos’ second half comeback after trailing 21-10 at the half.
Jefferson got Narbonne on the board in the second quarter when his 4-yard TD run came on the fifth play of a 13-yard drive in which he carried all five times after the Gauchos were the beneficiaries of a 1-yard punt into the wind by Pittsburg.
Because of the wind, Galli decided to go for it on fourth and 16 at the Pirates’ own 16 yard line and although they failed and turned it over in the red zone, Narbonne was only able to capitalize with a 40-yard field goal by Edgar Ramos that cut the deficit to 21-10. In the end, it really didn’t matter because down the stretch almost everything seemed to go Narbonne’s way.
Trailing 21-16 after the 35-yard scamper by Jefferson, and facing fourth and goal from the Pittsburg seven yard line, 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior quarterback Jalen Chatman (10 of 19 for 57 yards passing and one TD) found wide receiver Aaron Magee all alone in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with 8:25 left in the game.
Although the two-point conversion failed, and the final act of the Shakespearean twisted saga still had over half the fourth quarter to play itself out, Narbonne had its first lead at 22-21 and they never relinquished it.
“It was just one-on-one coverage and it was my third read,” said Chatman, who graduated from Narbonne on Friday and will head to Rutgers University later in the school year. “I delivered the ball and it was pretty easy.”
Pittsburg, which was No. 13 in the state, had the wind at its back in the first quarter, Narbonne in the second and third quarters, so when the Pirates got the ball back after the go-ahead Narbonne touchdown with the wind favoring them, it gave their faithful some hope.
Pittsburg speedster Willie Harts III (team leading 55 yards receiving and two TDs and 38 yards rushing) got the kickoff out to the 50-yard line and it looked like the Pirates might be in business. However, after six plays that included two pass interference penalties against Narbonne that were somewhat evened out by a sack of Pittsburg quarterback Justin Boyd, the drive stalled and Galli sent in kicker Miguel Romo to attempt a 35-yard field goal with the wind at his back.
Romo missed the field goal but was flattened and a roughing the kicker penalty was called. That moved the ball to the Narbonne nine yard line and it looked like the Pirates might again get a TD instead of a field goal. However a sack of Boyd by Darien Butler moved it back to the 19 and on third and goal from there an incomplete pass stalled the drive.
To the surprise of just about everyone in the press box since his kicker was visibly limping after getting hammered moments earlier, Galli didn’t use his backup kicker and instead brought Romo back on the field for another chance to split the uprights and give Pittsburg the lead, this time from 36 yards out. His indecision caused a delay of game penalty and Romo lined up for a 41-yard try. An offside penalty by Narbonne moved it back to a 36-yard attempt but a bad snap got away and the ball was scooped up by Logan Taylor who returned it 74 yards for a touchdown with 4:23 left. The 2-point conversion failed but there would be no more scoring in the contest.
Another strange twist caused by the ferocious wind came near the end of the game when Pittsburg punter Pedro Samaniego unleashed an 84-yard punt that is believed to be the longest punt in CIF bowl game history. That one bounced and rolled in the wind all the way down to the 2-yard line. However, that was contrasted with his earlier punt that went a mere one yard.
Pittsburg (9-3) benefitted from an interception by Harts to open the scoring on a 1-yard plunge by Darrion Bartley. A sack stalled another Narbonne drive and a 14-yard punt into the wind gave Pittsburg a short field and on the first play after the punt Boyd connected with Harts for a 21-yard TD and the Pirates had a 14-0 lead.
After Narbonne turned it over on downs Boyd found Harts again and after avoiding several tacklers he sprinted down the left sideline 40 yards to paydirt with 10:34 left in the second quarter for that 21-0 lead. For the final 24 minutes and 26 seconds, however, the NorCal boys would be blanked.
Even so, after the botched field goal that led to the final score, Pittsburg still had life. And the Pirates also almost benefitted from a miracle.
That 84-yard punt pinned Narbonne at its own one-yard line. Then two plays later the ball popped loose on a running play and for a few micro-seconds was rolling loose in the end zone. Chatman was alert enough to pick it up and quickly throw an incomplete pass before he was even sacked for a safety. He then ran it out of the end zone for 28 yards so that Narbonne’s punt into the wind wasn’t as dangerous as it could have been.
“I immediately thought incomplete pass when I first saw the ball (rolling in the end zone),” Chatman said. “I wanted to make sure it was to one of our receivers.”
With 1:12 left, the Pirates still had a chance. Harts ran for 10 to the 31 out of the Wildcat but on the next play he tried a pass that was intercepted by Demontii Peoples with 36 seconds left and the Narbonne celebration began.
“We had a 21- point lead and weren’t supposed to lose but we just blew too many opportunities and gave them too many ourselves,” Galli remarked.
The Pittsburg defense played reasonably well and only gave up 238 yards of offense on 62 plays (3.66 yards per play) but the Pirates could only muster 182 yards on 58 plays for a 3.14 yards per play average.
While the Pittsburg defense held Narbonne to less point other than in losses to Long Beach Poly and Corona Centennial, and a win over Gardena Serra, it was their defense that shut the door on Pittsburg. Darien Butler, a 6-1, 228-pound senior linebacker, led the way with 10 tackles and a sack. USC-bound Raymond Scott and Vandrew Epenesa also had sacks.
“Raymond has actually been a four-year starter,” Douglas said. “He and Jalen have been great. We almost won state last year too but lost and our opponent (Cathedral Catholic) then won the title the next week.”
“It was a crazy season,” concluded Galli, who had two games cancelled (one due to extreme heat and the other due to the October fires in Northern California. “Games cancelled and then a weird game like this. I told our young guys not to throw out the very good season and that we could have made it great but we didn’t. We had our opportunities but we blew it. Hats off to them.”
Game MVP: Jermar Jefferson (Narbonne)
One week after scoring five touchdowns in the big win against Paraclete, Jefferson was a beast in a state final. He carried 28 times for 164 yards and scored on runs of 4 and 35 yards. He’s also one of the state’s top uncommitted players with offers from Colorado, Rutgers, Colorado State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah and Utah State. He was previously at standout at Redondo (Redondo Beach) as a sophomore and junior.
Lancers of the north beat Lancers
of the south for first CIF title
With head coach Ron Calcagno in the 1980s, St. Francis of Mountain View had one of the top football programs in the state and in 1983 finished the season as the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year.
But the Lancers had never won a CIF state title on the field and they took care of that situation in Saturday’s first game at Sacramento State with a 22-13 victory against Grace Brethren of Simi Valley for the D2-A championship.
“He probably enjoyed it (in the stands) more than I did on the field,” said current St. Francis head coach Greg Calcagno, Ron’s son and the head coach of the team since 2013. “That’s a good team we beat. I sure hope we don’t play them in two years.”
Part of the reason for Calcagno’s discomfort was the gusty wind that blew up early on Saturday and was so bad that the CIF closed the west grandstands of the stadium.
Grace Brethren, making its first-ever CIF state finals appearance and at No. 49 in this week’s State Top 50, started with a bang. After the defense forced a punt on St. Francis’ first series, the Lancers scored on a 43-yard TD run by Seven McGee, a freshman and one of several freshman and sophomore players who were seemingly getting better in every recent game.
When Grace Brethren had to go into the wind in the second quarter, the momentum changed. St. Francis went up 8-7 on a 29-yard TD pass from Reed Vettel to Evan Williams followed by a two-point conversion pass by Lucas Andrighetto to Junior Fehoko. That TD was set up by a wind-driven one-yard punt.
The next time Grace Brethren faced a fourth down, head coach Josh Henderson didn’t bother to punt into the wind. A run by Lontrelle Diggs, however, was stopped short and that set up another St. Francis touchdown, this time a one-yard plunge by Opeti Fangupo.
Trailing 15-7, Grace Brethren was facing a third-and-four with less than three minutes left before halftime when freshman quarterback Michael Zele looked downfield and saw teammate Jermel Jones 40 yards down the middle of the field with no St. Francis defender within 15 yards of him. Zele delivered the pass despite the wind and Jones ran untouched for a 72-yard TD. Grace Brethren had to go for two points after that score, however, and had a pass broken up in the end zone.
In the second half, both team had trouble sustaining drives. Grace Brethren extended one drive on a fake punt and St. Francis had one drive stopped on downs at the 8-yard line.
“It’s all a blur right now,” said Williams. “I’m glad they gave me the opportunity to make that catch. We knew it was going to be crazy weather, but you just can’t let it affect you.”
It wasn’t the wind but perhaps just one or two mistakes by its youthful corps of players that prevented Grace Brethren from getting a breakthrough state crown.
“This is one of the most over achieving football teams I’ve ever had,” said Lancers’ head coach Josh Henderson, who previously was a head coach for many years at Aquinas of San Bernardino (the team Grace Brethren defeated in the regional finals). “We had three freshmen and three sophomores in big starting roles. They’ve done a lot of amazing things.”
Darrell Page of St. Francis led all rushers with 25 carries for 103 yards but neither team was able to do much on offense. Grace Brethren was held to just 198 yards while St. Francis only had 217.
With the win, St. Francis also ended the season at 11-4 and may move up a few spots from the No. 32 position it was at in the State Top 50. The Lancers also won the second state title for the powerful West Catholic Athletic League, which got its first one just the night before by Serra of San Mateo in D2-AA.
“We battled Serra two weeks ago, went for two and didn’t get it so we’re relieved to get it done today,” Calcagno said. “It’s just a special group. They were a 2-8 JV team two years ago and the only player we brought up was Reed. Everybody else stayed down. Now to what they did today is amazing.”
MVP: Evan Williams (St. Francis)
In a game of little offense, we considered a defensive player, but Williams’ two touchdown catches were the difference. Neither catch was easy and the second one on a fourth down play essentially sealed the win. Williams, who also plays defense, has been making plays like those two all season, especially in the playoffs. The junior will be back next season and is the younger brother of 2016 standout Bennett Williams, who was one of the top freshmen this season in the Big 10 Conference at the University of Illinois.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: