The game wasn’t five minutes old and a cell phone was being shoved in Paul Cronin’s face. On the line? A North Coast Section official.
Cardinal Newman’s football coach didn’t take the call, but he gave an assistant coach explicit instructions — tell them we want the No. 1 seed.
Approximately 10 hours after the whistle blew on Cardinal Newman’s thrilling 34-27 win over previously unbeaten Rancho Cotate, a selection committee tasked with seeding Div. 3 football teams for the section playoffs has to wrap their heads around what happened on Santa Rosa Junior College’s football field Saturday night and what it means for the postseason.
For Cronin, it’s simple. Newman, now 7-2 overall and 5-0 as the North Bay League champioons, deserves the No. 1 seed.
“Essentially, I think we are a 1 or 2,” he said. “If you look at the strength of schedule and our power ranking, which I think they should go by, I think we are a 1 or 2.”
Newman’s only losses this season were to St. Mary’s of Stockton — a 48-34 defeat — and the matchup with Rancho two weeks ago, when they fell 41-28 in the first contest for either team since the deadly wildfires that burned a significant portion of the Newman campus and torched the homes of approximately 90 Cardinal Newman students.
Rancho head coach Gehrig Hotaling conceded that the loss for his team will sink them in the seedings.
“We’ll drop down,” he said. “The four or five seed? Our division is so stacked that one loss” affects us.
And Hotaling wanted that pennant that the Newman players were posing with at center field.
“That’s the most disappointing thing,” he said. “It’s tough to beat a good team twice.”
And unfortunately for Rancho, Newman was a better team Saturday night than they were two weeks ago in a game that counted toward overall records but did not count in league play. When Rancho hosted Newman on Oct. 23, it was the first time either had taken the field for a game in weeks.
Senior quarterback Beau Barrington, whose family lost their home in the fire, was a different guy Saturday night.
Saturday night’s Barrington ran for 137 yards on 20 carries and passed for 114 yards on 13 of 18 attempts. He had a couple of bobbled balls and two interceptions, but nobody’s perfect.
“Beau played like a winner tonight,” Cronin said. “Beau played like the best quarterback in the Redwood Empire tonight. He was a winner. He made great plays. And he didn’t have a ton of help — we had dropped balls, we had fumbles. We could have won that game by a lot more.”
Barrington said this game just felt different.
“This week me and Cronin had a real heart-to-heart about the whole fire thing,” Barrington said.
“I just played a lot more aggressively,” he said. “I just played with a lot more passion.”
But the tight final score — it was tied after three quarters — will give the selection committee something to chew on Sunday morning. The committee is scheduled to meet Sunday morning to seed teams in divisions 1-5. The brackets should be released by Sunday afternoon.
The two longstanding rivals came into the game 4-0 in North Bay League, with no other team even close. This was the game circled on everyone’s calendar from the moment it was scheduled. It had all the elements: powerhouse foes both with undefeated records, both squads fighting for a higher seed in the same North Coast Section division — and the element that is hard to quantify, but just might be the most powerful piece of the equation: bragging rights and pride.