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In a championship game sure to be remembered as one of the most memorable offensive shootouts in a North Coast Section title game, it was Cardinal Newman’s lone punt and a failed Cardinals’ defensive stop on fourth down that will be remembered as the major difference makers.

Late in the game, when Marin Catholic appeared to have been stymied on offense for one of the few times all night, the Wildcats’ decision to go for it on fourth and 8 from inside their own 30-yard line turned into a 69-yard pass play and set up a 3-yard touchdown run — which ultimately gave the Wildcats a 59-56 victory and the NCS Division 3 title Saturday night at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park.

“What we did was we put 56 points on the board, and we’d like to have 63,” Cardinals coach Paul Cronin said.

Cronin said the one drive he would probably like back was the Cardinal Newman offensive drive prior where they did punt.

With the Cardinals up 56-51 and just under nine minutes left to play, a second and 6 turned into second and 17. A false start on the next play set up a second and 22, which was followed by two consecutive Beau Barrington incompletions on second and third downs, leading to the Cardinal Newman punt.

“We had a couple things that we mishandled, and that happens,” Cronin said. “When you’ve got to be perfect throwing the ball, there’s a lot of pressure, right? You kind of have to continue to grind. You got to catch everything. You got to make every throw, so it ended up being tough.”

But the Newman defense appeared to hold, forcing a fourth and 8 at the 26, and that’s when Marin Catholic’s Spencer Petras connected with Ben Skinner for the play of the game — a pass and catch that went from what appeared to just be a first-down catch to a 69-yard reception that set up a first and goal at the five. Anthony Marino scored a 3-yard touchdown run to give the Wildcats their first and only lead in the game with around 3:07 left.

Newman had one last drive in the final minutes, but after Barrington ran for 15 yards on two plays for a first down, four consecutive incompletions and a turnover on downs all but sealed the game for Marin Catholic.

“I think nobody was stopping anybody … we got stopped at the end,” Cronin said. “And that happens. Those guys played super hard and we played super hard.”

A first-half passing shootout culminated in a Cardinal Newman 3-yard touchdown pass from Barrington to Chauncey Leberthon with one second left to give the Cardinals a 35-24 lead heading into the half.

The score was crucial, because it appeared that Marin Catholic had trimmed the deficit to four points with 26 seconds left in the half and the Wildcats getting the ball first in the third quarter.

After a Tanner Mendoza 10-yard touchdown run put Cardinal Newman up 28-16 with a little under two minutes left in the first half, the Cardinals appeared poised to hold Marin Catholic inside its own 20 with time winding down until the halftime horn, thanks to a great kickoff.

On the first play of the ensuing drive, the Wildcats’ Petras was sacked at the 11.

And then, on second and 19, a lucky bounce changed everything.

Petras threw a pass which Leberthon, playing cornerback, managed to get two hands on, but was unable to catch for an interception.

The ball bounced into Marin Catholic wide receiver Spencer Laurer’s hands, who ran 47 yards to the Newman 35-yard line with about one minute to go in the half.

The Wildcats then scored two plays later on a Petras six-yard touchdown pass to Peter Brown, who then caught a two-point conversion from Petras to trim the deficit to 28-24.

Newman wasn’t going to settle with the four-point lead heading into the half, though.

After a short kickoff resulted in the Cardinals getting the ball at their own 35 with 26 seconds left, Newman didn’t waste time going deep, as Barrington connected with Kyle Carinalli on a 41-yard pass that put Newman at the Marin Catholic 23 with 14 seconds left.

Barrington then ran the ball to the 5-yard line with 8 seconds left and a defensive holding penalty put the ball between the 2- and 3-yard lines. Barrington then threw the touchdown to Leberthon with one second left before the break.

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