SANTA, ROSA, Calif. – Visiting Sac-Joaquin Section perennial power St. Mary’s-Stockton welcomed the return of Asante Carter, and the Rams running back paid dividends for the team and their faithful fans that made the trek to Santa Rosa, providing the biggest chunk of the offense in a 32-18 victory over Cardinal Newman.
Carter, a 5-10, 170-pound junior running back, who had missed the last two-plus games with what St. Mary’s head coach Tony Franks called “a buggered up ankle,” carried 15 times for 97 yards and three touchdowns on runs of one, two and 15 yards.
Carter was injured in the Rams first game, a 58-0 blowout of West-Tracy, but he tried to go in the following game, a 47-7 victory over Sac-Joaquin Section small school powerhouse Central Catholic-Modesto, but Franks had to pull him early.
“We kind of stumbled along with him for a few weeks,” Franks said regarding Carter. “We realized he just wasn’t right, so we kind of shut him down for a couple of weeks to let him heal up.”
“I was glad to see Asante back,” continued Franks. “We really need Asante. He’s so tough and a strong physical runner, and we need him back there in our backfield.
St. Mary’s (5-0) deferred the coin toss and on its opening drive Cardinal Newman looked like it was going to be able to move the football. The Cardinals drove 44 yards into the Rams red zone, but on third-and-four, St. Mary’s senior linebacker Lucas Healy broke through to sack Newman’s 6-5, 272-pound junior quarterback Matt Hilden for the first of his three sacks and five overall for the Rams.
From there, Cardinal Newman tried a 41-yard field goal that had the distance but sailed wide right and St. Mary’s took over on a touchback.
The Rams proceeded to march 80 yards in eight plays, highlighted by a 38-yard run to the one by Carter, who took it into the end zone on the next play. After a successful PAT, St. Mary’s had a 7-0 lead it would never relinquish.
The ensuing Newman drive ended on a what turned out to be more than one special teams gaffes. After a three-and-out, the long snap sailed over the head of the Newman punter and Rams junior Jaime Gutierrez tackled him in the end zone for a safety and a 9-0 St. Mary’s lead to end the first quarter.
St. Mary’s took the free kick after the safety and went 73 yards in 10 plays, culminating in a 6-yard pass from junior quarterback Samson Hunkin to junior wide receiver Cayden Ward. Carter ran for a 2-point conversion and it was 17-0 Rams.
At that point things went awry once again for the hosts. Newman went three-and-out and was forced to punt. For the second straight time, a bad snap led to a safety as St. Mary's junior Omari Gayles tackled the punter in the end zone, giving the Rams a 19-0 lead.
Cardinal Newman finally got on the board when they scored on the ensuing drive on a 29-yard pass from Hilden to senior wide receiver Zach Kelly. The extra point was blocked and St. Mary’s took a 19-6 lead into halftime.
St. Mary’s stalled on its drive to start the second half and Cardinal Newman looked like they might make a game of it after they scored on a 6-yard pass from Hilden to junior running back Kaize Severson. The 2-point conversion failed and it was 19-12 St. Mary’s with 8:15 left in the third quarter.
The Newman student section was rocking and it looked like their Cardinals might take the momentum, but the young Rams answered right back. On the first play after the kickoff, Hunkin found senior wide receiver Naseri Danielson for a 68-yard pass reception. Carter took it from there on an 8-yard run and then he plunged in from 2 yards out and it was 26-12 with 7:28 left in the third.
On its next drive, Newman had a third long snap get away, but this time they averted disaster when they were awarded a roughing-the-kicker penalty to keep the drive alive. The Cardinals couldn’t cash in when Hilden went down on successive sacks by junior Ryan Camello and Healy. This time Newman was able to execute the punt and St. Mary’s took over on its own 35.
From there St. Mary’s pretty much sealed things with a 7-play, 65-yard drive the ended when Carter scored his third rushing TD from 15-yards out to open a 32-12 lead with 11:38 left.
With the Newman coaches screaming “finish the game” the Cardinals produced their best drive of the game when they went 73 yards in 16 plays to register the final tally on a 10-yard pass from Hilden to junior Zach Holdan with 5:23 remaining. The 2-point conversion, as well as the attempted onside kick after the touchdown, both failed.
Hunkin finished 12 of 17 for 128 yards and he ran for 37 yards. Ward had four receptions for 58 yards.
Cardinal Newman got 234 yards and three TDs from Hilden on 22 of 37 passing. Kelly had seven receptions for 142 yards and the one touchdown. Steverson rushed for 87 yards and the one touchdown receiving.
For Cardinal Newman (3-2) it marked the third straight game they played without star senior running back Santino Acevedo who is nursing some ankle problems, but Cardinals head coach Richard Sanchez was offering no excuses.
“We failed tonight but we can’t have any excuses, including poor coaching,” Sanchez said. “Excuses are the nail that built the house of failure.”
Franks knows his team will need to improve if they are to compete with De La Salle at home in two weeks and in the tough Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. His Rams committed a lot of penalties and allowed Cardinal Newman to execute some long plays.
“We didn’t play our best tonight and we’ve got work to do,” Franks said. “We had a ton of mistakes and way too many mistakes to play at a level we need to play at.”
“We try to build for the end of the season,” Franks continued. “Each week we try to get a little bit better, and by the end of the season you want to hit your stride and play your best football. It’s tough when you kind of stumble along the way like tonight, but credit Cardinal Newman. They’re a quality program with a similar tradition to ours.”
Before the Rams host De La Salle they travel to neighboring Lodi next Friday to open Tri-City Athletic League play.
Cardinal Newman will need to regroup and hopefully Acevedo will be ready after a bye week when the Cardinals travel to cross-town Montgomery in two weeks to open North Bay League-Oak Division action.