SANTA ROSA — The words sounded simple Friday night, too simple maybe. Like a cliché even, a term that a coach may drag from the dustbin of bromides, to soothe a defeat, make it somehow palatable.
“We made them nervous,” Paul Cronin told his players after Cardinal Newman lost to regional, state and national powerhouse St. Mary’s of Stockton, 48-34.
Nervous? What kind of cache does that provide?
Plenty. You should have been there Friday night. You have seen a team that had every reason to check out. St. Mary’s led, 13-0, with the game less than three minutes old. Looked like boys walking in cement trying to tackle a lightning bug, and yes, St. Mary’s is that fast. When the two touchdowns came on 37- and 54-yard runs, people looked around like they just saw an avalanche.
Yes, that was St. Mary’s all right, the team that beat Serra, 41-13, last week, the team that’s sending eight guys to NCAA Division 1 schools, including Alabama.
Then someone stepped forward, someone who made St. Mary’s nervous. You’re gonna like this kid. In just his second start, Newman quarterback Beau Barrington answered with two touchdown passes, a 19-yarder to Jason Moran and a 36-yarder to Chauncey Leberthon. Now the game’s tied at 13. Should have been nervous. Didn’t play like that.
St. Mary’s started fumbling and bumbling and kicking the ball around and, whoop, botched snap from center on the punt and the scramble and then Tanner Mendoza fell on the ball on the end zone. With 11:09 left in the second quarter, the team that had no chance was now leading a team that made it all the way to the state championship last year before losing.
As if awakened from a deep sleep, realizing Newman was no cupcake, St. Mary’s stopped treating the ball as if it had kitchen grease on it. The Rams ran off 28 unanswered points. In basketball, 28 straight seals a game. In football, 28 straight is a hockey stick to the knee. Now it’s 41-20 with 7:46 in the third. The rout is on.
Except it wasn’t. Barrington took 10 plays to run and pass his team to a response, a one-yard plunge with 4:13 left in the third.
Both teams smacked each other around pretty much the rest of the third. The Newman players took one more deep breath — they’ll never play a more physical game this season — and Barrington did his thing again, running and passing to another 1-yard run with 6:05 left in the third.
The dog don’t quit because there’s no quit in the dog. That’s what Cronin said to his team. Yes, St. Mary’s did tack on another touchdown and did make it 48-34 and from a distance it might have looked like the Rams just turned it on when they had to. No, they turned it on because Newman gave them no choice. That’s the point Cronin was making to his team.
“Sometimes people evaluate success by a score,” the coach said. “They look at the numbers and reduce the game to that. That’s unfair, to say it’s either success or failure simply by looking at numbers.”
That’s why — and he did this without hesitation — Cronin called for a knee the last three snaps Barrington took from center as time expired.
“I was worried about injury, only because my guys were worn out,” Cronin said.
And they had nothing left to prove. They knew who they played. As I stood on the Newman sideline during the game I heard these player comments behind me: “That guy is fast. … never seen anyone that fast. … They are big … they like to hit … they know how to tackle.” The Newman comments weren’t coming from a place of embarrassment. Rather, it was like taking a step back from a painting and admiring the art.
That’s what Newman did. And, dollars to doughnuts, I bet this is what was said on the Rams sideline It was a line from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” It goes like this: “Hey who are those guys?” In that statement respect lies.