Benefield: Cardinal Newman relishes triumph in state title game
This one was building.
Cardinal Newman won the 3-AA CIF football championship Saturday night 31-14 over the El Camino Wildcats of Oceanside, and from opening kick you could feel it coming.
You could feel it coming when senior Giancarlo Woods reeled in 35-yard pass from senior quarterback Jackson Pavitt to put the Cardinals up 24-14 in the second quarter.
You could feel it coming when senior Justin Lafranchi grabbed a tipped pass from El Camino quarterback Kiah Reid in the first quarter for this first of two interceptions on the night. You could feel it when senior dual-threat quarterback Pavitt scampered down almost the entire length of the field on a quarterback keeper touchdown in the first quarter that so deflated the El Camino defense that one of their players got tossed as a result.
But truth be told, you could probably feel this one coming at the team’s first weight session back in January after their 2018 season ended with an improbable coin flip ginned up by North Coast Section officials as a way of dealing with a compressed playoff schedule as a result of that fall’s deadly wildfires.
Or maybe even before that, when the 2017 squad dealt with the destruction of nearly half the campus in the Tubbs fire.
This win was building and on Saturday night, against a big, quick and talented El Camino team that had put together a string of huge playoff upsets, the Cardinal Newman Cardinals delivered on a promise that had been in the air for years.
“It’s been a process in the works and we were in due time for something like this,” two-year starter Pavitt said, sporting a crisp, black state champs cap on his head.
Cardinal Newman had been here before. They lost in state title games in both 2006 and 2008 and haven’t been back since, after losing to Valley Christian in the Division 2-AA NorCal regional title game three years ago.
And last year’s team had the goods before getting sent home by a coin flip. But this year’s team had them too. And they also had a fire that a pinch of perceived injustice can give a squad.
The definition of “amends,” according to Merriam-Webster, is “compensation for loss or injury.”
The Cardinal Newman football team sought, on Saturday night on their home field, to make amends for past grievances: The Tubbs fire. The coin flip.
Their mission this season did not feel seasonal — it felt like something a long time coming. Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin likes to say that each team develops its own personality, but this one felt like it had been built on both the successes and the scars of the past.
They were out to make good on past promises teammates had made to each other. Their record through these playoffs says as much. They beat teams by an average of 34 points.
And their defense held an El Camino offense that scored 75 — a section record — against top seed Bishop’s in the Division 2 San Diego Section title game to 14 points Saturday night. The defensive unit earned crucial turnovers from a well-oiled Wildcats offense.