The only reason Aaron Skinner wasn’t caked in dirt from head to toe was the artificial composition of the football field at La Playa Stadium. Skinner played every down for Bishop Diego High in the Cardinals’ 12-6 victory over the previously unbeaten Paraclete Spirits last Saturday night, grinding out tough yardage as a ball-carrier and crashing into opposing runners from the defensive secondary.
Paraclete was driving at the Bishop 20-yard line in the final minute when Skinner dumped star running back Jerry Kelly for a four-yard loss. “I knew he was going to come outside,” said Skinner, the only defender between Kelly and a potential tying touchdown. “It was probably the best play I made all year.” Two plays later, an interception by Jeremy Kjar secured the victory that sends the Cardinals into the CIF Mid-Valley Division championship game.
“This is the best time of my life right now,” Skinner said. It is a special time for all the Bishop Diego faithful. The Cardinals got the opponent they wanted in the CIF final: Frontier League rival Santa Clara High of Oxnard. They will face off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 8, at Moorpark College.
The only other time Bishop played for a CIF football title was in 1992. Ralph Molina was there. A 1979 graduate of Bishop Diego, he has coached at the school for 22 years. He had tears in his eyes as he led the team in a chant after their semifinal victory.
“What kind of football?”
Molina, a Santa Barbara police sergeant, is Bishop’s defensive coordinator. In the four games after Santa Clara defeated the Cardinals 42-41, they have shut out three opponents and held the high-scoring Paraclete team to one touchdown. “I took it hard after the Santa Clara game,” Molina said. “Since then, we’ve been coming on.”
The Cardinals know the challenge that awaits them Saturday night: trying to stop Santa Clara’s Cierre Wood, a 6-foot, 195-pound junior who is already being wooed by USC, Notre Dame, and Florida. He rushed for 377 yards against Bishop Diego in October, scoring 40 points on six touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions. Wood has the power to run over people and you-can’t-catch-me speed. He scored touchdowns the first three times he touched the ball (on runs of 85 and 71 yards and a punt return of 66 yards) in the Saints’ 42-20 semifinal victory over Cerritos Valley Christian.
Fifteen years ago, another blue-chipper tormented the Cardinals in the CIF championship game. Eliel Swinton, who later played defensive back at Stanford, ran for more than 200 yards in Montclair Prep’s 35-7 victory. That Bishop team was an over-achieving bunch coached by the peppery Norris Fletcher, who has since retired in Texas. This year’s Cardinals are 11-2-two wins better than the school’s previous high-water mark-and their professorial head coach Tom Crawford (think actor Max von Sydow) has them playing smart, efficient football.
They also have players like the 5Ê¹8Ê°, 175-pound Skinner, who is not being recruited by any college powers (“I might walk-on at Oregon,” he said), but is the kind of kid high school football is all about.
SERVICES CANCELLED: Nick Perera calls UCSB’s Harder Stadium “the cathedral” of college soccer. It has been the home of the largest and most boisterous crowds in the NCAA playoffs for the last several years, spurring the Gauchos to two Final Four contests and last year’s national championship. When Perera scored a goal to put the Gauchos ahead of Ohio State 3-1 in the second half of their round-of-16 game at Columbus last Sunday, it seemed a lock that there would be a quarterfinal game this weekend at the cathedral, with perhaps the biggest crowd yet cheering on the Gauchos. But like a bad dream, the Buckeyes came back with two goals against UCSB’s shaky defense, and they scored again in the second overtime to stun the Gauchos 4-3. It was a bummer of a finale for such senior stalwarts as Andy Iro, Greg Curry, Tino Nu±ez, and Brennan Tennelle, but they can look back with pride at their careers, which coincided with UCSB’s arrival as an elite soccer program.