Eagles Tame Wildcats in CIF Playoff Win
In last night’s CIF DIII Playoff quarterfinal game, the Santa Fe Christian Eagles beat the Brawley Wildcats by a score of 38-35. The Eagles remain undefeated and are now 10-0. It was Senior Recognition Night and we honored this very special group of Senior football players before the game. The game was played at Torrey Pines High School and the stands were packed with SFC fans cheering on the Eagles. The fans were not disappointed.
The game did not start well for the Eagles. On the first possession of the game, the Eagles started on their own 30 yard line after a short kickoff by the Wildcats. After two running plays that gained only a couple of yards and an incomplete pass it was 4th down. On the ensuing punt, the snap sailed over Colton Lehberg’s head and he was tackled at the 10 yard line. Two plays later and less than 2 minutes into the game, the Wildcats scored touchdown to go up 7-0. It would be a battle the rest of the game.
On the Eagles’ second possession, it was a different story. The first play was a long pass from Thomas Greupner to Zack Marshall and the Wildcats were called for pass interference. Three plays later after long runs by Jackson Bush (16 yards) and Colton Lehberg (19 yards), Dante Rochford ran it in from 5 yards out for his first of three touchdowns on the night. The offensive line was amazing on this drive. In Evan Bennett’s first game back from a broken collar bone he had a key block on Bush’s scamper. Jacob Albrecht moved the defensive player he was blocking 5 yards downfield, Ben Coons put a defender on his back, and Tim Deveau pulled and provide the key block to help spring Bush. On Lehberg’s run, Joey Olmore was the pulling guard leading the way and Rotchford and Marshall secured the edge.
After the first series of the game, a dominant, senior-led SFC offensive line took control in the trenches, including Ben Coons (center), Joey Olmore (guard), DJ Tovtin (guard), Evan Bennett (guard and slant tackle), Bert Carnes (tackle), Jacob Albrecht (tackle), and Timmy Deveau (tackle). Those are some serious dudes that have performed at a high level all season.
After Brawley was able to score on its next possession to go up 14-6, the Eagle’s scored on their next drive. It was a 5 play, 63 yard drive that included a 14 yard run by Kevin Olah and a 39 yard pass from Greupner to Brendon DeBont. Lehberg and Bennett provided the key block to spring Olah. The pass from Greupner to DeBont was a “dime.” The defender had good position on DeBont and Thomas drop the pass right where it needed to be. Great throw, great catch. Two plays later Dante Rotchford scored from 9 yards out for his second touchdown of the game.
The first quarter ended with the Wildcats leading 14-13.
And, so it went the balance of the game as the offenses for both teams were able to move the ball. The key turning point came on the 3rd play of the 2nd quarter when Zack Marshall cause a fumble and Chase Wetsel was able pounce on the ball. A critical turnover. On the first play of after the fumble recovery, the SFC coaching staff busted out a little razzle‑dazzle with Thomas Greupner tossing the ball to Luca Torti who handed the ball off Kevin Olah who threw it back to Greupner for a 20-yard gain on the “Philly Special.” On the second play of the drive, Colton Lehberg took a handoff from Greupner and followed DJ Tovtin around the left end for an 8-yard gain. A couple of plays later, Dante Rotchford rumbled into the end zone from 6 yards out for his third touchdown of the game. Dante Rotchford 18, Wildcats 14.
On their next possession the Wildcats were able to sustain 14 play, 75 yard drive to take back the lead at 21-19 right before the end of the first half.
On the first possession of the 2nd half the Eagle defense stopped the Wildcats in their tracks and forced their first and only punt of the game from their own 22 yard line. Unfortunately, the punter got off a good kick that got a great bounce. The Eagles’ offense took over at their own 22 yard line.
To the amazement and delight of the fans, Cooper Whitton made his return to the gridiron after recovering from a broken collarbone earlier in the season. Whitton was not scheduled to return until next week if the team won this week. However, with Jackson Bush going down in the first half due to an apparent shoulder injury Whitton strapped on his helmet and carried the ball on the Eagles’ first play of the second half, a 9 yard carry right up the middle. That was the start of a 13 play, 78 yard drive. Following Whitton’s run, Luca Tori add a 14 yard scamper. The SFC offensive line was back at work opening up holes for the Eagles’ rushers. On the very next play Thomas Greupner found Zack Marshall running free in the secondary for a 42 yard pass and catch. In 3 plays the Eagles had moved the ball from their own 22 all the way to the Wildcats’ 26 yard line. Nine plays later Greupner dropped another dime, this time to Zack Marshall on the fade route in the back of end zone from the 10 yard line. After missing the 2-point conversion attempt, the Eagles were back on top by a score of 25-21.
The Eagles defense shut out the high octane Wildcat offense in the 3rd quarter. Way to go defense!
On the last play of the 3rd quarter, the Wildcats went for it on 4th and 4 from their own 32 yard line. A gutsy call for sure. They converted the 4th down with a 10 yard run. However, Brawley was not as fortunate 4 plays later on 4th and 4 from their own 49 yard line. The Eagle defense tackled the quarterback for a loss on what appeared to be an offensive miscue by Brawley.
This was a critical series for the Eagles defense and to get a stop and turnover on downs was huge. Leading the charge for the defensive line on this Brawley possession were Bert Carnes, Chase Wetsel, Joey Olmore, Luke Heggie and Jackson Noonan. Great defensive stand that was a key turning point in the game.
The dominant Eagles’ offense took over at the Brawley 48 yard line. Unfortunately, the Wildcats were able to sack Greupner on the first play for a 6 yard loss. But this was a mere bump in the road. A couple of long runs by Dante Rotchford (15 yards) and by Kevin Olah (23 yards) and an offsides penalty by Brawley and the SFC offense was back in business. Luca Torti capped off the short drive with an 11 yard touchdown run. After the blocked extra point, the Eagles were up 31-21 in the middle of the 4th quarter. But Brawley was not done.
Brawley’s next possession started at their own 37 yard line and they were able to mount an 11 play 63 yard drive ending in a touchdown and narrowing SFC’s lead to only 3 points. With time running out Brawley tried an on-side kick. The first attempt was not successful, however Brawley was offsides. So, they got a do-over and executed it perfectly and recovering the onside kick at their own 47 yard line.
On the first play of the drive the Wildcats tried a swing pass to their star running back. Dante Rotchford read the play and put “the hit of the season” on the receiver. The Eagles’ defense and sideline went wild with the hit. Unfortunately, on the very next play a breakdown in the Eagles’ secondary gave up a 53 yard touchdown pass giving the Wildcats a 35-31 lead with about 2 minutes left in the game. I heard an unnamed fan mutter under his breath, “I think Brawley scored too quickly.”
Colton Lehberg fielded the ensuing kick-off at the 8 yard line and brought it out to the 32 yard line. The Eagles needed to go 68 yards and score a touchdown in about 2 minutes. This is why we love watching Tom Brady leading the Bucs in the last two minutes, Aaron Rodgers completing Hail Mary passes to win a game on the final play for the Packers, or Drew Brees calling the shots and lead the Saints to victory. Well, last night SFC had Thomas Greupner, plenty of time outs, the will to win, and the discipline, and patience to do their jobs and execute the game plan. On the first play, Greupner, showing tremendous poise in the pocket connected with his favorite target Zack Marshall for 13 yards. Greupner followed that with a 17 yard completion to Kevin Olah. The offense was in business, Olah was just getting started and the offensive line was controlling the trench.
After a short gain running the ball and an incomplete pass, the Eagles were in danger of stalling with a 3rd and 7 from the Wildcats’ 35 yard line. Greupner dropped back for a pass and found Olah again connecting on a 16 yard pass play down to the Wildcats’ 19 yard line. With the clock winding down, Luca Torti had a powerful 17 yard run down to the 1 yard line but a block in the back penalty erased much of the gain and the ball was on the 17 yard line. On the next play Greupner threw a short pass in the right flat to Olah who caught the ball on 15 yard line. Kevin juked the first defender at the 10 yard line making him completely miss. Olah then cut hard to his left, broke through an arm tackle as the defender slid right by, and walked into the end zone with the go-ahead touchdown with about 55 second left in the game. With extra points hard to come by on this night, Lehberg made a critical extra point to give the Eagles a 3-point lead at 38-35.
On the kickoff, a short pooch kick was fair caught by Brawley at the 25 yard line. The Wildcats are primarily a running team and with no timeouts left, they need to get first downs to stop the clock or pick up big gains and get out of bounds. Needing only a field goal to force the game into overtime, it was time for the SFC defense to rise up and deliver. And boy did they ever! On the first play from scrimmage, Joey Olmore (back in the game after leaving earlier in the 4th quarter due to a hyperextended knee), Ben Coons and Nate Clifford sacked the quarterback for a 6 yard loss. The defense was fired up. A 13 yard completion in the middle of the field, kept the clock running. And then, the defense did it again. The Eagles defense dropped 7 into coverage and all four defensive linemen (Olmore, Coons, Clifford and Luke Heggie) beat their blocker to pressure the quarterback. Clifford and Coons sacked the quarterback for a 6 yard loss. It was a thing of beauty, a defensive coach’s dream.
On the final play of the game, Clifford executed a perfect speed rush beating his man and forcing the quarterback to scramble. With all his receivers covered in the secondary, the quarterback was forced to run. Chased by Coons for about 25 yards, the Wildcats’ quarterback ran head first into a punishing hit by Charlie Sawyer and a couple of other Eagles. It was the last play of the game. DEFENSE!
Final score Eagles 38, Wildcats 35.
The “Talon Shoutouts” this week go to:
Dante Rochford (3 touchdowns, 50 rushing yards, 10 tackles, and the hit of the year – Beast Mode)
Thomas Greupner (8/11 passing (73%) for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns, game winning drive in the last 2 minutes of the game – Poise Under Pressure)
Kevin Olah (Team leading 53 rushing yards to go with 57 receiving yards, a 20 yard pass to Greupner, and the game winning reception and amazing run after the catch for a touchdown – The Man)
Defensive line (causing a critical turnover and registering key quarterback sacks late in the game)
As DJ Tovtin said to me after the game: “That was the most fun I have ever had playing a game.” Promptly followed by “For any sport.”
Doug Miller also noted in a text after the game “Big-time players, making big-time plays in big-time games.” Truer words …
This was a team effort by a group of young men that played with great hearts and with confidence and poise beyond their years and by a coaching staff that had our young men prepared to execute a winning game plan and a last minute, game winning drive in a CIF Playoff Game. Does it get any better than that? (According to DJ Tovtin, the answer is a resounding “No.”)
SFC will play the Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders next Friday at 6:30 in Chula Vista in the CIF DIII Semifinal round. Mater Dei is ranked in the top 5 in San Diego County with a record of 9-0. They are seeded #2 in CIF DIII playoffs behind the #1 seed Mt. Carmel. Mater Dei beat Brawley in the first game of the season about 3 months ago in late August by a score of 53-21.
Let’s Go Eagles!