The roller coaster of emotion that was the Cardinal Newman’s 38-21 loss to Marin Catholic was as surprising as it was typical.

“It talks a lot about their effort and their care for one another,” head coach Paul Cronin said about the fight in the Cardinals, despite the emotional highs and lows that played out in Saturday night’s CIF North Coast Section Division IV championship game.

“With so many things that weren’t going well and how easy it would have been to quit ... that’s what they’re all about,” he said.

The Cardinals scored on their first drive, as they’d done in many games this year, as junior quarterback Jordon Brookshire pushed for a 1-yard touchdown to take the lead, as he had done repeatedly this season.

After the typical start, the Cardinals took an unexpected nosedive.

Junior wide receiver Damian Wallace was carried off the field early in the first quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return to play. That was a blow to the Cardinals’ mentality, said head coach Paul Cronin.

“We lost our best player,” he said.

In a corkscrew of events to make sports fans’ stomachs drop, senior linebacker Michael Ortola was walked off the field to be checked by a concussion specialist, and after returning to the field, senior Cardinals middle linebacker Bala Triolo was checked for a concussion and was ruled unfit to return to the field.

But after they were thrown for those loops and down 31-7 heading into the fourth quarter, the Cardinals began to play as expected.

“We had some injuries to special players,” said senior defensive back Andrew Casey, “but our guys stepped up.”

Ortola scored on a 28-yard touchdown and then Brookshire connected with his backup quarterback, who was on the field as a receiver and caught a 6-yard pass to complete the 2-point conversion.

And then the Cardinals’ engine found some speed as their spirits lifted.

Casey hit the Marin Catholic quarterback hard and came up with a fumble recovery.

“I saw him get hit by another of my guys and the ball was just right there so I just reacted, really,” he said.

The emotion ramped up as the energy on the Cardinal Newman sideline was elevated, players said.

But that increase in adrenaline and hope also what made it a much harder loss to stomach, Casey said.

“It was a hard loss and it’s bittersweet, but we left it all on the field,” he said.

Another touchdown from Ortola and two failed onsides-kick attempts rounded out the ups and downs in the defining fourth quarter for the Cardinals.

“We needed to be a little closer at that point,” Cronin said, “but it would have been easy to quit and they chose to keep playing. They really battled hard.”