Three close losses in the regular season laid the groundwork for the Bishop Diego football team to thrive in the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs.
The Cardinals outlasted previously unbeaten El Modena and punched their ticket to the semifinals with a 31-21 victory on Saturday night at La Playa Stadium.
“They are well coached, they are physical and they do some things you don’t typically see in terms of the way that they play defense and have a lot of variety in their offense,” said Bishop Diego coach Tom Crawford of El Modena. “Hats off to them, they had a really great year.”
One of the primary reasons that Bishop Diego was able to overcome such a formidable opponent was the play of Qu’Ran Gossett and Misa Paiau in all three phases of the game.
Paia rushed 10 times for 114 yards and also added a crucial interception in addition to a game changing blocked field goal.
Gossett rushed 21 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns, but his biggest play of the game was a strip sack of El Modena quarterback Xzavior Guess.
“They are so talented that you want them on the field on every play,” Crawford said. “The coaching part of it really is trying to figure out when it is that they need to be off the field, to get a break, to be as effective as they are.”
The game started with a bang as Guess exploded up the sideline on the first play from scrimmage for a 62-yard touchdown run.
However, Bishop Diego responded on its ensuing possession with a seven-play, 58-yard drive that Gossett finished off with a seven yard touchdown run to level the score at 7-7.
The Cardinals took a 14-7 lead with 1:20 remaining in the first quarter on a 35-yard pass from quarterback A.J. Vele to wide receiver Bryan Trejo that was placed perfectly in the back of the end zone on third-and-20.
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Guess scored his second touchdown of the game on a three-yard run at the 8:58 mark of the second quarter to even the score at 14-14.
The latter stages of the second quarter ultimately decided the game beginning with a two-yard touchdown run by Gossett that put Bishop Diego ahead 21-14.
Palau followed that up with an interception deep in Bishop Diego territory that thwarted an El Modena scoring opportunity. The Vanguards got the ball back after an interception of their own, but two plays later Gossett came up with a strip sack that set Bishop Diego up on the El Modena 20-yard line after a long return by Garo Nahabedian.
“I thought we went toe-to-toe with them for the most part,” said El Modena coach Matt Mitchell. “We just had a couple breakdowns and offensively had a couple turnovers here and there and penalties.”
Two plays later, Vele delivered perhaps his best throw of the season as he threaded the needle into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown pass to Liam Flood, who came down with the ball in traffic with seven seconds remaining in the first half, extending the Bishop Diego lead to 28-14.
The second half didn’t have much scoring as Guess accounted for the only touchdown on a five-yard run with 5:56 remaining in the third quarter, cutting the Vanguards’ deficit to 28-21.
Bryan Trejo added a 30-yard field goal for Bishop Diego early in the fourth quarter that put the Cardinals ahead 31-21.
Down two scores El Modena drove deep into Bishop Diego territory with just over five minutes to play, but Blake Armstrong’s 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Paiau. El Modena never truly threatened after that.
Bishop Diego will travel to Upland for the CIF-SS Division 3 semifinals on Friday.