The game in Eureka started badly for South Fork junior quarterback Joey Wittlake.
But the ending, for the Cubs, was excellent. South Fork, which trailed 12-0 going into the fourth quarter, and 18-7 with 8:54 left in the game, rallied for a stunning 22-18 upset win over St. Bernard’s on Saturday afternoon.
Wittlake won this game with his defensive skills, not just his passing prowess.
With 3:59 remaining in the game, the South Fork defensive back stripped the ball on a Crusaders’ first-and-10 run to the left and returned it 34 yards down the sideline for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
All this happened just 15 seconds after he had thrown an eight-yard touchdown pass to Sean Stock, part of Wittlake’s 15 completions, 234 passing yards and two aerial touchdowns.
Winning on a fumble recovery was perhaps ironic, because only 55 seconds into the game St. Bernard’s scored the first points in the same manner, as Heath Francis sacked Wittlake and forced a fumble, which Rolo Olivares carried 26 yards to the house.
”I’m proud of the guys,” said South Fork head coach Andy Olsen. “The kids got a taste of victory last week, and it’s something we talked about all this week, how hard we were going to play today.
The Cubs (2-2 in league, 3-5 overall) - who had not won a Little 4 game since 2008 before defeating Hoopa Valley 38-28 in last weekend’s shootout - are now tied with St. Bernard’s (2-2, 5-3) for second place in the league behind Ferndale.
Despite Wittlake’s late heroics, St. Bernard’s still had a shot to win with a first-and-10 at the Cubs 28-yard line with 2:09 remaining. Two running plays gained only three total yards, then two passes into the right side of the end zone resulted in a ball off a receiver’s hands and an incompletion.
”I was worried this week that this might happen,” said St. Bernard’s head coach Jason White. “We were missing both offensive tackles (Manu Tanuvasa, Brian Buihner) and our quarterback (Christian Mello). We didn’t finish in the red zone, and we had two picks. We ran the ball OK, but not like we have been.
”But my hat’s off to South Fork, and to Andy, for the way they played.”
In the first quarter, the Crusaders scored their second touchdown 2:22 before halftime when Nick Genevro carried it in from one-yard out to cap off a 50-yard drive.
But this game had plenty of action left in the final two minutes before intermission.
After the teams exchanged interceptions, the Green and White had the ball on the Cubs’ 39-yard line with one second remaining. Logan Bongio burst through and rumbled 38 yards before Stock caught him at the oneyard line.
”Karl Terrell’s defense had some great stops, and gave us some chances,” said Olsen.
Troy Langley intercepted two passes and made two tackles for losses, Justice Sherman added a sack and several big tackles, and Cole Moody delivered a loud stop on the Crusaders’ first play from scrimmage.
The Cubs’ key stand came with 5:10 left, when they stonewalled the Crusaders on fourth-and-two at their own 43-yard line.
The Crusaders’ defense then stiffened, and forced the Cubs into a fourth-and-four at the St. Bernard’s 37-yard line.
Wittlake rolled out and completed a 29-yard pass to Stock, who hauled it in before tiptoeing out at the eight-yard line.
”Just great concentration by Sean,” said Olsen.”He had one foot in and dragged his other toes from inbounds across the sideline.” Wittlake then hit Stock for both an eight-yard TD and the two-point conversion, narrowing the Crusaders’ lead to 18-15.
Each team completed sensational TD passes early in the fourth quarter.
First, it was Wittlake hitting his wide-open brother, Keith, for an 86-yard score at 10:53. Then backup quarterback Patrick Allen, with St. Bernard’s in a third-and-15 situation on its own 30-yard line, hit Shed Bean in stride for a beautiful 70-yard score at 8:54.
Genevro (22 carries, 110 yards) and Bongio (22 carries, 100 yards) each broke the century rushing mark as the Crusaders ground out 250 yards.
The Crusaders D picked off four passes, with Oscar Pimentel grabbing two in the second quarter, Genevro making a pick in the third, and Jared Guy swiping one with 6:52 left in the contest. In addition to Francis, Olivares and Alex Lopez also contributed sacks.
The Crusaders hurt themselves by committing 11 penalties for 105 yards, in contrast to the Cubs’ three penalties for just 15 yards.
Neil Tarpey can be reached evenings at (707) 441-0579 or at email@example.com.
1. RICH BICKEL/THE TIMES-STANADRD
South Fork’s Troy Langley hauls in an interception against St. Bernard’s on Saturday.
2. RICH BICKEL/THE TIMES-STANADRD
South Fork’s Joey Wittlake finds the end zone after his 34-yard fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter.