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Cardinal Newman quarterback Jackson Pavitt puts team on his shoulders in victory

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While Yonaton Isack led his Piner Prospectors to a record-setting high school football season, across town Cardinal Newman’s Jackson Pavitt quietly led his team to an even more successful year, punctuated Friday with a three-touchdown night and a decisive North Coast Section Division 4 semifinal victory.

The Cardinals, seeded No. 1 in D4, pressured Isack relentlessly and Newman’s defense and depth was too much for No. 5 Piner, held scoreless for the first time this season.

Pavitt, a senior, threw two touchdowns in the first half and three total in the 49-0 win.

“Jackson has played really good football the last two years,” Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “The competition we played was really strong, some Division 1 schools, and Jackson played so well.”

With Pavitt at the helm this year, Newman rolled undefeated through the North Bay League-Oak Division, 5-0, and put up a 9-1 regular-season record. The only loss came to Division 1 school Liberty, ranked 30th in the state.

Next week, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound quarterback will be under center seeking an NCS D4 championship — a game that eluded the Cardinals last year when Eureka won a coin flip to determine the winner after the Camp fire delayed the playoffs.

On Friday against Piner, Pavitt performed as he has all year long, with efficient movement, accurate passes and calm in the face of pressure.

Remarkably, Pavitt has not thrown an interception all year. He threw only three last year.

That shows, in part, his poise at the position.

But he didn’t start out there.

When he began playing football, in the third grade in Calistoga youth football, Pavitt played defensive end. Even playing with kids three years old than him, Pavitt was a starter.

“He was small,” said his first coach, Donnie Taylor, who coached Pavitt for five more years and was watching Friday. “He knew his assignments. He was always using his head.”

Pavitt later played fullback and became the best player on the team, Taylor said.

“He never got to touch quarterback,” he said. “He was better than the quarterback.”

Taylor said Pavitt showed early signs of being a competitor: “You find out the most about a person when you’re not winning, when you’re down by 30. Jackson always answered the call. He was always working.”

When it became clear Jackson was serious about football — and had some talent — he decided he wanted to go to Cardinal Newman, a school with a long successful football history and a rich tradition of quality quarterbacks. Cronin himself was a star quarterback at Piner, Mendocino College and the University of Mary in North Dakota.

“He wanted a bigger pond” than Calistoga, said Pavitt’s father, Shane. “He always had Newman in mind.”

Pavitt himself said he decided he wanted to be a quarterback after his eighth-grade year.

“I just love football and was going over all the positions,” he said. “Quarterback had the most attention to detail, so I decided on that.”

Coming into Newman following Jordan Brookshire, who now plays at San Diego State University, and Beau Barrington, now at Arizona State, Pavitt had big shoes to fill — but also good mentors.

“He took over as a junior,” Cronin said. “He has such confidence in himself. He thinks about plays. He’s a big-game quarterback.”

Going into Friday’s game, Pavitt had completed 70% of his pass-attempts and averaged 185 yards a game. He threw 25 touchdowns in 11 games.

Friday, he connected on 11 of 18 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns: a 67-yard catch-and-run to Tsion Nunnally 20 seconds into the game, a 74-yard pass to Nunnally and a short pass to Justin Lafranchi late in the third quarter.

After the win, he said he doesn’t feel nerves during a game, even the playoffs.

“This is my favorite thing in the world to do,” he said. “Why would I be nervous? You may as well be happy doing what you love.”

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