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NORTH COAST SECTION FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS

All kickoffs 7 p.m.
(Seedings in parentheses)

Friday's game

Division 2
(1) Campolindo vs. (2) Freedom, at Dublin High School

Saturday’s games

Open Division
(1) De La Salle vs. (2) Pittsburg at Dublin High School

Division 1
(1) Liberty vs. (2) Freedom at Heritage High School

Division 3
(1) Marin Catholic vs. (2) Cardinal Newman, at Rancho Cotate High School

Division 4
(4) Fortuna vs. (7) Hercules at McKinleyville High School

Division 5
(1) St. Patrick/St. Vincent vs. (2) Middletown, at Alhambra High School

Cardinal Newman fought its way into Saturday night’s North Coast Section Division 3 football championship game, gaining entry in the final seconds against North Bay League rival Rancho Cotate last week.

Their opponent, Marin Catholic, had to dispatch the defending Division 5-AA state champions to punch the ticket.

It’s a game that features two North Bay football powerhouses, one with an extraordinary offense behind a Division I-bound quarterback, and the other with a storied tradition and the bona fides of having overcome true tragedy this season.

Marin Catholic’s Wildcats waltzed through the Marin County League without breaking a sweat. They outscored league opponents 278-6. They beat second-place Terra Linda 48-0.

Newman, champion of the North Bay League, was tested quite a bit more this season. The Cardinals played a quality Rancho Cotate team an unprecedented three times, dropping the first contest but winning the two that really mattered: the Nov. 4 game for the league crown and last week’s barnburner to advance to the NCS title game.

And for their trouble, the Cardinals get Marin Catholic, a veritable buzz saw of a team. Marin Catholic has played in the NCS title game in each of the past six seasons.

The last time Newman saw Marin Catholic was in 2015, when the Wildcats won the NCS Division 4 title with a 38-21 win. They played in 2012 when No. 2 seed Marin Catholic beat No. 3 seed Cardinal Newman in the semifinal en route to the Division 3 title.

And this version of the Wildcats has a future Division I quarterback in Spencer Petras and the slew of talented guys he likes to throw to.

Reports put the quarterback at 6-foot-5 and anywhere between 205 and 225 pounds. At that point, one is kind of picking nits. He’s big. Petras, who’s bound for Oregon State, threw for more than 3,000 yards as a junior. This season, he passed the 3,000-yard mark 10 games into the season. And with scores such as 63-7 against De Anza, 55-6 against Redwood and 54-0 against Tamalpais, it’s probably fair to guess that he didn’t play all four quarters in a lot of contests this season.

Despite facing a Marin Catholic roster full of sparkling stars and eye-popping stats, Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said his Cardinals will bring the same style of play that earned them a 10-2 overall record and a fourth consecutive North Bay League title.

And he’s OK with that.

“You can’t really change a ton. You are who you are,” Cronin said.

Cronin said his job this week was finding ways to “give your best guys the best opportunity to make plays.”

At this stage of the playoff scrum, only quality teams are left. So it is Cronin’s belief that big plays, from big players, will decide the game. And that is where he believes in his crew.

“These guys have been in a lot of big games,” he said. “They are confident.”

The Cardinals’ defensive line will be key. Pressuring Petras will be the job of seniors Devin Mansen and Dario Marotto and three-year varsity guy Dino Kahaulelio, who is a junior.

The play-by-play announcer had better bone up on the pronunciation of Kahaulelio’s name, because Cronin is counting on him to be involved all night.

NORTH COAST SECTION FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS

All kickoffs 7 p.m.
(Seedings in parentheses)

Friday's game

Division 2
(1) Campolindo vs. (2) Freedom, at Dublin High School

Saturday’s games

Open Division
(1) De La Salle vs. (2) Pittsburg at Dublin High School

Division 1
(1) Liberty vs. (2) Freedom at Heritage High School

Division 3
(1) Marin Catholic vs. (2) Cardinal Newman, at Rancho Cotate High School

Division 4
(4) Fortuna vs. (7) Hercules at McKinleyville High School

Division 5
(1) St. Patrick/St. Vincent vs. (2) Middletown, at Alhambra High School

Petras likes to throw to Peter Brown, a Navy commit who is 6-foot-2 and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. He owns Marin Catholic’s records for receiving yards in a single game (231) and receiving touchdowns (four).

The focus, for Newman, will be “not stopping, but containing Brown,” Cronin said.

That task will likely fall to a combination of senior Mark Boschetti and junior Chauncey Leberthon.

“We are fortunate,” Cronin said. “Both of those guys can match up and compete.”

There is no doubt they will have their hands full. In addition to Brown, Marin Catholic has quality receivers in sophomore Gaven Cooke and senior Ben Skinner, who this week announced via Twitter that he’s going to Cal next season as a preferred walk-on.

That pass-catching group will likely take up the slack after not one, but two leading rushers for the Wildcats went down with injuries in recent weeks.

While missing key guys in the run game may monkey with the chemistry, Cronin said it’s not as if the wheels will fall off Marin Catholic without any one guy.

“They have depth,” Cronin said. “They are continually making deep runs in the playoffs.”

And so, too, are the Cardinals. If they win Saturday, it would mark the school’s 13th NCS football title. And perhaps its most memorable.

This is, after all, a team that suffered immeasurable loss this season after wildfires not only destroyed a significant portion of their campus, but also brought the season to a temporary halt. Three starters — quarterback Beau Barrington and receivers Kyle Carinalli and Nikko Kitchen — all lost their homes.

The team has been practicing at El Molino High in Forestville because students and staff have not been cleared to return to their campus on Old Redwood Highway.

And still the Cardinals have marched on.

Barrington has thrown for more than 2,200 yards and 25 touchdowns. He’s completing 67 percent of his passes.

Carinalli has 23 catches and the highest per-catch average on the team at 25 yards. He also leads the team in receiving touchdowns with 10 — none bigger than the 42-yarder he scored in the closing seconds of Friday’s NCS semifinal game against Rancho.

Senior Jason Moran is Barrington’s favorite target with 35 catches, six of which he’s turned into touchdowns.

And Tanner Mendoza has been the workhorse all season long. He’s averaging 8 yards per carry and has more than 1,200 on the season. He was unstoppable in Newman’s second game against Rancho.

I asked Cronin about the emotional weight of the season — whether his guys were tired, not physically but emotionally, by the load they are carrying this season.

He said it’s almost the opposite. They aren’t weighed down; they are buoyed by each other.

“It’s brought them so close,” he said. “They love one another.”

And Cronin rejected the idea that the Cardinals deserve this game or this title or a trip to the regional state tournament because of what they have endured.

“Nah, I don’t see it like that,” he said. “I think we have done a great job in the last several weeks of earning the right to play.”

And while football has provided a place for teammates to think about things other than the fire and the loss, Cronin said he doesn’t worry about what will happen when the season does come to an end.

“They’ll move on just fine,” he said. “Hopefully it doesn’t end any time soon, but it will end.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671, kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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