Cardinal Newman’s football team came back from a 14-point deficit to steal a 43-42 win in the closing minutes against Fortuna on Friday night in Santa Rosa.
With the CIF North Coast Section Division 4 semifinal win, the Cardinals will head to the championship game next Saturday against either top seed Marin Catholic or No. 4 seed Moreau Catholic.
“We got taken by surprise,” said head coach Paul Cronin, “and our reaction was genuine confusion, but we get to play next week.”
After a 46-7 win last week against Justin-Siena, the Cardinals were feeling comfortable, Cronin said, but they got a rude awakening.
“It was definitely a wake-up call,” he said. “We haven’t been in a game in the fourth quarter since week six and we felt pretty good.”
Junior quarterback Jordon Brookshire got the Cardinals on the board in typical Newman fashion, running for a 5-yard touchdown early in the first quarter.
The Huskies had an answer when quarterback Dylan Kepon pushed for a 1-yard touchdown before sophomore J.B. Lewis recovered a Cardinals fumble, setting up Ben Flackus’ 4-yard touchdown catch.
Down 14-7, Cardinal Newman sophomore free safety Jason Muran recovered a fumble and senior running back Michael Ortola evened the score on a 6-yard touchdown.
“We tried all kinds of things,” Ortola said. “They showed us that we had to be better.
Midway through the second quarter, Cardinal Newman was hit with a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
“There was error after error and we played really hard but we didn’t play smart,” Cronin commented on the defense. “But what you can’t discount is that they kept playing so hard that it bailed us out.”
Huskies senior running back Dante Viggers gave Fortuna the 20-14 lead with a 23-yard touchdown run and when Brookshire threw an interception on the next play, sophomore Church Crenshaw extended Fortuna’s lead on a 1-yard carry.
“Our kids could have quit, but instead we surged down the field,” Cronin said.
Brookshire didn’t roll over, and after a big 20-yard pass to junior wide receiver Damian Wallace, the Cardinals quarterback ran the ball for 14 yards and a touchdown, to cut Fortuna’s deficit to 28-21 at the half.
The second half opened on the tail of the Huskies’ momentum, as Viggers ran for a 20-yard touchdown to extend Fortuna’s lead to 35-28, before Ortola was the answer again. His 15-yard touchdown closed the gap to 35-28 in the third quarter.
The Huskies’ Flackus scored again with a little more than six minutes left in the game on a 14-yard touchdown, but after that the game belonged to Ortola.
The senior scored on a 3-yard touchdown with five minutes remaining and then completed the 2-point conversion, before tying the score at 42 with a 24-yard touchdown.
Senior kicker Jack Murray’s extra point gave the Cardinals their lead with under two minutes remaining.
The lesson was clear, Ortola said, that their season could have ended.
“That scared us a lot,” he said. “We definitely know that we’re not invincible.”