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Prep football: Cardinal Newman reigns in the rain to win NCS title

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On a rainy Saturday night in Santa Rosa, Cardinal Newman High School won the 2019 North Coast Section Division 4 football title with a walk-off field goal as time expired.

In what had to feel like a redemption victory after last year’s decision to decide the title on a coin toss cost them, the top-seeded Cardinals defeated second-seeded Marin Catholic 13-10 at Santa Rosa High School as Ethan Kollenborn nailed a 34-yard field goal in the final seconds, sending the Newman bench pouring onto the field in celebration.

The Cardinals (12-1) entered Saturday’s title game looking to get head coach Paul Cronin his 200th win and claim their first NCS title since 2016 and the school’s 14th football title. Mission accomplished.

Making it to this championship game was even more meaningful for Newman after last year, when Eureka won a coin flip to determine the 2018 championship after smoky conditions from the Camp fire in Butte County delayed the playoffs.

“You feel bad because last year we should’ve won our second title,” Cronin said. “You feel bad for those guys, but for these guys right here that’s part of the reason they played so hard. We’re excited for them and we get another week together which is really cool, but I still think about 2018, they just got the short end of that thing. We’re happy for the guys tonight but boy you would love to have back-to-back.”

The Wildcats (11-2) came in on a 10-game winning streak. With the two rivals evenly matched, a highly contested title game was no surprise and as the rain poured down Saturday night the game came down to the last-second field made by Newman.

Both teams’ defenses came out strong in the first quarter, as the opposing offenses chose to start conservatively in the slick conditions.

With less than four minutes remaining in the first, the Cardinals opened up their offense and a long pass completion set them on the goal line. Newman finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jackson Pavitt and led 7-0 after one quarter.

With just over a minute left in the half, despite having no timeouts, the Cardinals were able to drive quickly down field and Kollenborn converted on a 46-yard attempt to give Newman a 10-0 lead at halftime.

The defensive battle continued in the second half as neither team found much room to work on offense.

An interception by the Wildcats’ Spencer Lauer gave their offense the ball midway through the third, and a 40-yard run by Gaven Cooke put them in the red zone, where they scored on a 26-yard field goal from Javier Martinez, cutting Newman’s lead to 10-3.

Late in the third quarter Cooke carried the ball 50 yards to put Marin Catholic’s offense back in striking distance, and the Wildcats tied the score with a tough 9-yard run from Cooke, who was willed into the end zone by his lineman.

With less than three minutes left in regulation, the Wildcats took over on offense again, but on their second play Tsion Nunnally came up with a clutch interception for Newman to give the ball right back to his offense at midfield.

Two short completions to Nunnally gave the Cardinals a first down, but a couple of plays later they found themselves in a fourth-down situation. With 11 seconds left in regulation, Pavitt completed a crucial 12-yard pass to Justin LaFranchi, setting them up for the game-winning field goal.

“It’s a rain game and those are sloppy conditions right there, you got to keep playing hard,” Cronin said. “The throw and the catch on that fourth down were just two guys who were seniors that know one another and played well in a big game.”

Kollenborn came onto the field and sent a 34-yard walk-off field goal through the uprights to win the game as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the Cardinal Newman side started a wild celebration.

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