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)
(1) Campolindo vs. (2) Freedom, at Dublin High School
(1) De La Salle vs. (2) Pittsburg at Dublin High School
(1) Liberty vs. (2) Freedom at Heritage High School
(1) Marin Catholic vs. (2) Cardinal Newman, at Rancho Cotate High School
(4) Fortuna vs. (7) Hercules at McKinleyville High School
(1) St. Patrick/St. Vincent vs. (2) Middletown, at Alhambra High School