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A team that goes up 21-0 in the first quarter, like the Rancho Cotate Cougars did Friday night, shouldn't have lost the game because of a bad snap from center on a point-after-touchdown.

Conversely, a team that runs off 35 consecutive points, like Cardinal Newman did Friday night, shouldn't have had to depend on a bad snap to win the game.

Welcome, folks, to a roller coaster thrill ride or, as they called it around here in north Santa Rosa, the 2013 Newman-Rancho game. The only certainty in this game, as it turned out, was that it was going to be decided at the end of it, not at the beginning or in the middle.

And it was.

Newman won, 42-41, after the Cougars botched the extra point attempt, the center snap flying over the holder with 2:46 left in the game. It was as if Newman won because someone slipped on a banana peel. It wasn't a glorious victory but, on the other hand, it didn't come with an asterisk either.

It did come, however, with Newman coach Paul Cronin probably adding a strand or two of gray hair. The Cardinals beat Maria Carrillo this year after falling behind, 14-0, at the start. They were losing 13-12 to Windsor before winning. They started against Montgomery on the short end of a 21-3 score and, that time, didn't recover.

"If we can learn how to start strong," Cronin said, "we can be a great team."

In the first quarter the Cardinals played nervous, anxious. It almost felt like the first game of the season as all the moving parts were not only performing in unison, they seemed to be going in different directions. Enter Craig Lucey.

"He stabilized us," Cronin said.

Center snaps were aggressive. Quarterback Kenton Dunsford struggled with his passing rhythm. The Cardinals are young and it showed. It felt hectic. It looked hectic. But there was Lucey, junior, who ran with authority, who didn't fumble, who settled things down with his hard-nose charge into the line, even though he is but 165 pounds.

"He is faster than we anticipated," said Rancho coach Ed Conroy.

An effective running game has settled down many a jittery offense in football history. Lucey, with 31 carries for 167 yards, did exactly that. It was interesting that of the six Cardinals touchdowns, Lucey scored only one of them, a 4-yarder just before half that tied the game at 21.

Lucey wears No. 2. While he doesn't have the bulk of either Jeff Badger or Stephen Tomasin — both who also wore No. 2 — Lucey has the same grit as those legendary Newman backs.

"There's a history here with No. 2," Lucey said.

And that tradition is this: The guy wearing No. 2 for Cardinal Newman gets the tough yard. He gets the fourth and inches carry. He's the default runner, the one to turn to when all else in failing.

Lucey was that running back Friday night.

And then he hurt his shoulder late in the game.

"I have no idea how it happened," Lucey said.

Lucey had to leave the game wincing. The type and extent of the injury was not immediately known but Cronin took a guess — subluxation, a partial temporary dislocation of the shoulder. Cronin suffered that injury numerous times when he played quarterback in high school or college. He thinks he recognized it.

"It's the shoulder sliding in and out (of the socket)," Cronin said. "We will know for sure what it is by Monday. Craig is a tough kid."

When asked after the game how high could he raise his left arm, Lucey raised his left hand to the height of his shoulder but no higher.

Cronin will need Lucey and every able-bodied kid next Friday when the Cardinals host Casa Grande, which many consider the best team in the area. Outside of a NCS playoff game, Casa-Newman will be the game of the year in the Empire.

If Newman begins with its characteristic slow-crawl out of the gate, if the Cardinals fall behind 21-0 in the first quarter as they did Friday night, it may be overly optimistic to believe they could scratch their way back against Casa Grande.

A loss wouldn't be a deal breaker. Newman, now 7-2, is a lock for the playoffs. On the other hand Rancho Cotate is now 5-4 and with a loss to a lower division opponent.

"I'm pretty sure we'll still make the playoffs," said Rancho coach Ed Conroy, "although we may have a low seed."

Conroy also could plead his team isn't boring. It lost a game in which 83 points were scored because of a bad snap. The Cougars invite curiosity as does Newman. Unpredictability always attracts a crowd.

(You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.)