KENTFIELD, Calif. – Host and top-seeded Marin Catholic sputtered a bit on offense, but the defense was ultra stout and totally dominated No. 5 seed Del Norte in a CIF North Coast Sections Division IV semifinal 20-7 victory on Saturday afternoon.
The win sends Marin Catholic (12-0) into the title game next Saturday night at San Rafael High where the Wildcats will be looking for a second straight D4 championship in a matchup with No. 3 seed Cardinal Newman. Cardinal Newman (8-4) punched its ticket to the championship game with a 17-14 victory Friday night at No. 2 seed Acalanes.
So dominant was the Marin Catholic defense that it only allowed 80 total yards for the game - 23 in the first half and 57 in the final two quarters - with 32 of those yards coming on a running play on the last snap of the third quarter. Also, for the fourth time this season they shut out the opposition’s offense as the one Del Norte score came against the Marin Catholic offense.
The Marin Catholic offense ended up producing 383 total yards, but a snap over the punter's head, and another one over the head of senior quarterback Joey Cook, and a couple of fumbles, killed more than one drive and resulted in 63 yards of losses to go along with 42 yards in penalties.
“The defense was lights out,” said Marin Catholic head coach Mazi Moayed. “But offensively this was one of our sloppiest games all season.”
Moayed didn’t want to make excuses but he did reveal that at one point last week 30 Wildcats players were out with a flu bug that’s been biting recently, and two had pneumonia.
One of those affected players was junior D1 running back prospect Charles Williams Jr. Despite being visibly sluggish, he rushed for 107 yards on 22 carries, but had 21 yards of losses on mishaps.
Cook was not pinpoint and threw a telegraphed pick six, but he ended up 16 of 28 passing for 249 yards and accounted for all three Marin Catholic touchdowns on TD passes to three different wide receivers. His favorite target was senior wide receiver Matt Greco, who had six receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown.
The Marin Catholic offense was out of sorts in a scoreless first quarter but the defense only allowed 28 yards. The second quarter was similar but Wildcats finally broke through on a 5-yard pass from Cook to Robert Tuttle to make it 6-0 as the PAT went wide left. No problem as in the second quarter the Marin Catholic defense held Del Norte to minus-5 yards and the half ended with the Wildcats holding a 6-0 lead.
Marin Catholic deferred to start the game and got the second half kickoff, but after mishandling it their own 14 was where there possession began. The gaffes continued when on the first play of the second half Cook stared down his receiver and Del Norte senior quarterback Ethan Thomas stepped in front of the receiver and took it to the house for a 25-yard pick six. After a converted PAT it was 7-6 Warriors and Marin Catholic trailed for the first time all season.
At that point, and the way they were playing the Wildcats could have tanked, but the defending state CIF Division 4-AA Bowl Game champions showed the heart of champions. Cook, who was the quarterback last season at San Marin when the Mustangs won the NCS Division V and CIF Division 5-AA titles, went to work along with Williams.
Del Norte attempted a squib kick but Marin Catholic recovered it on their own 35. On the first play Williams ran for 12 yards. Cook then completed an 11-yard pass to junior Greer Arthur and a 5-yard pass to sophomore Kelly Storms. Williams then ran for 3 yards and on third-and-2 he ground out a first down. On the very next play Cook connected with Greco for a 32-yard touchdown that gave Marin Catholic a 13-7 lead.
After the Wildcats defense forced a three-and-out, Cook, Williams, and senior reserve running back Mckay Hawthorne got busy once again. Williams found Storms for an 11-yard completion, then Williams broke one for a 33-yard run. He was winded and came out and Hawthorne came in and rushed for seven and 11 yards to give Marin Catholic a first down at the Warriors 12-yard line.
Williams ran for 2 yards but on the next play the ball was snapped over the head of Cook. It resulted in a 15-yard loss that brought up a third-and-23 situation. It was looking like the Wildcats might have to go for a field goal but Cook and Arthur came to the rescue when the pair connected on a 25-yard touchdown pass with Arthur stretching out to make a fingertip, or should we say, a glove-tip catch to give Marin Catholic the final tally of the game when Cook hit Greco on a pass for a 2-point conversion that sealed the final margin with 4:01 left in the third quarter.
From that point on the Wildcats offense was unable to score against a tough bunch of Warriors, but other than giving up a 32-yard run to Del Norte senior running back RJ Lofton the Marin Catholic defense only gave up 16 yards in the final 16 minutes and Arthur had a 35-yard interception return.
Earlier in the game Williams also had an interception.
“I was disappointed in the pick six but I was proud of Joey just for flushing it and coming back,” Moayed said. “That’s when you find out whether you can trust your quarterback or not when they bounce back from a major error like that.”
“What matters is the win and we got that, so we’re pleased and happy with that,” Moayed continued. “We could have found reasons not to win but we were able to win today with a number of errors.”
Del Norte (9-2) is a running team and when the game was close in the first half their strategy was to take as much time off the clock as possible between plays in hopes of limiting the Marin Catholic possessions.
“We came in here with a game plan and for the most part we executed it,” Del Norte head coach Nick White said. “But they have an outstanding defense. The best we faced all year.”
“I’m super proud of my kids, the coaches, and the fans that made the trip and came out,” White continued. “It’s been an amazing season and I couldn’t be prouder of my guys.”
After making a 750-mile round for their semifinal victory at Tennyson, this past week it was a 700-mile round trip to Kentfield. Even so, the Del Norte fans filled the visitors stands.
For Marin Catholic, the Wildcats will be facing a familiar opponent. The rivalry goes back even further, but three of the last four NCS D4 title games have involved the Redwood Empire Catholic School rivals with Marin Catholic winning two of three.
“Cardinal Newman is a great opponent just like they are every year,” Moayed said. “Our celebration needs to be short-lived. We’ve got to put all our focus on Cardinal Newman and the championship game.”
Marin Catholic will carry a 23-game winning streak into the D4 title game.