By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Newman 56, Churchill County (Nev.) 32
LOOMIS — One minute and 30 seconds into the 2014 football season, Cardinal Newman had already turned over the ball and given up a quick touchdown with some shoddy defense. With a sophomore quarterback at the helm, it looked like things could pretty quickly spiral out of control, at least in Saturday’s opening game at Del Oro High.
On the sidelines, coach Paul Cronin wasn’t sweating it — at least not any more than you would expect on a blistering August afternoon in the Central Valley. It was 104 degrees in the parking lot before kickoff, and no doubt hotter on the artificial turf.
“Relax,” Cronin told his players. “Long game. Fun game.”
“You get in the first games, they’re so goofy,” Cronin said afterward. “I mean, you got a sophomore quarterback starting, you got nerves and a big event. The kids, the Marines come talk to ’em. You blow it out of proportion. So if you freak out there as a team, it’s gonna be tough to come back.”
Newman survived its jitters and an inspired performance by Churchill County (Nev.). By the end, it was the Cardinals who were having fun, scoring the final 28 points of the game and beat the Greenwave 56-32 as part of the Honor Bowl series, starting the season on a high note.
In addition to going 1-0, Cardinal Newman served notice that its quarterback position is in capable hands. Young Jordon Brookshire was sensational, rushing for 228 yards on 22 carries and completing 8 of 11 passes for another 178 yards. Brookshire ran for three touchdowns and passed for two more, making it look easy in his first varsity action.
Honor Bowl organizers named him Newman’s player of the game.
Things did not start smoothly for the Cardinals, though. On the second play from scrimmage, Brookshire threw a bubble screen to wide receiver Kasey Mansen, who fumbled. Connor Richardson recovered for Churchill County, and it took the Greenwave just two plays to find the end zone, speedy Nathan Heck scoring on a 23-yard run.
Early on, it was Churchill County making the big plays and Cardinal Newman countering with sustained drives. The Cardinals marched the ball 72 yards in 14 plays, then went 83 yards in 18 plays to knot the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter. Newman took its first lead, 21-14, 1:41 before halftime on another bubble screen to Mansen; he broke this one for 32 yards.
The Cardinals offense was rolling, but they had lost two fumbles in the first half. It could have been worse, too, with Brookshire letting a couple of shotgun snaps slip through his hands. He was able to recover both.
“That was just me thinking a little too quickly about the next step and not focusing on my ball security,” Brookshire said.
If the first half was interesting, the third quarter was absolutely wild.
Heck started it with a 58-yard run just 27 seconds into the quarter. Midway through the period, Pyle punched it in from 2 yards out for Churchill County. Newman responded with a crisp drive, Brookshire finishing it on a 31-yard run. The Cardinals forced a punt, but on their next play, Greenwave defensive back Aaron Bitter flew into the backfield, plucked Brookshire’s pitchout from the air and raced 38 yards for a touchdown.
“We had got control of the game, and then I called a stupid play for a touchdown,” Cronin said. “… And then you’ve got frantic-ness going on. There’s just touchdowns all over the place.”
The crowd hadn’t finished celebrating that highlight when Mansen took the ensuing kickoff and blasted 85 yards for a Cardinal Newman touchdown.
Along the way, Churchill County had missed three extra points (one of them a 2-point try broken up by Cardinals defensive back Tommy Streb), allowing Newman to take a 35-32 lead into the fourth quarter.
Streb scored on an 87-yard pass play 1:19 into the fourth quarter (on yet another bubble screen), and Cardinal Newman never looked back. It was the defense that took over late.
“Honestly, we were over-pursuing the running backs,” senior linebacker Pat Evans said of the Cardinals’ early struggles. “What they’d do is cut back underneath us once we got over the top. We made a game-time adjustment and started reading the guards, and that allowed us to see the holes better and fill them with a lot more accuracy.”
It was Evans who sparked the turnaround. He made several high-impact tackles, batted a ball out of the air on a blitz, intercepted a pass and ran down a ball carrier from behind, stopping him inches short of a first down — all in the second half
This was a high-profile win for Cardinal Newman.
The Honor Bowl included four games Friday and six Saturday — split between Del Oro and Oceanside High in Southern California — and spotlighted some of the top prep teams in California and other Western states. The series honors the U.S. military, and the game here had a USMC color guard for the national anthem and a couple of Humvees parked behind one end zone.
The final Northern California game had relevance to Cardinal Newman, too. It featured Clayton Valley Charter, the Cardinals’ opponent on Sept. 13. Cronin’s assistants were planning to stick around to scout the Ugly Eagles, but the head coach was heading home. He had his young son with him, and anyway.
“I’ve been watching their film all summer,” Cronin said. “I’m sick of watching Clayton Valley.”