By Bill Kolb | Contributor
Salesian High School’s football team now officially knows how it feels to be Boise State. Or TCU. Or Oklahoma State. Or Auburn.
The Pride did everything it could possibly do on the field in the 2011 season, but still didn’t get invited to the big dance. That certainly doesn’t mitigate the impressive nature of its body of work this year.
Salesian blazed through its regular-season schedule at a ferocious clip, ripping off 10 wins in as many games. It mauled its Bay Football League competition, outscoring BFL squads 208-42 in five games (a 42-8 average scoring differential that is slightly depressed by a 2-0 forfeit victory over St. Elizabeth). During the regular season, the Pride’s smallest margin of victory was 10 points, 31-21, in a Week 1 win over Inderkum-Sacramento. The Falcons didn’t lose another game until the Sac-Joaquin Section quarterfinals, finishing 10-2. The 31 points was also the Pride’s lowest point total in a played game.
When the regular season ended, the scrappy lot from Richmond got serious. If anything, when the North Coast Section Division IV playoffs rolled around, Salesian got better.
The top-seeded Pride trounced No. 9 Valley Christian-Dublin and No. 4 Healdsburg 35-7 and 35-6, respectively, before routing No. 2 Ferndale 42-6 to take home its second straight NCS championship and finish with a sparkling 13-0 record.
“This means the world to us,” senior running back Marcial Malic said, just moments after coach Chad Nightingale draped a section championship medal around his neck. “We knew we had a chance to do something special, to be the first undefeated Salesian team since 1965, and we did it.”
Malic played a huge part in the ultimate victory, sticking and moving his way through the Wildcat defense for 201 yards and two touchdowns in 23 carries.
For those of you following along at home, that makes for a 24-2 mark over the past two seasons for the Pride “” easily the most dominant Div. IV program in Northern California over that span.
But thanks to the fact that Salesian’s enrollment this year was 19 over the 500-student cutoff for California Interscholastic Federation Small School state bowl championship purposes, the Pride had to contend with Div. III competition if it wanted at crack earning a trip down south. And, unfortunately for the Pride, that meant butting heads with the the upstart Campolindo Cougars, who turned in a miraculous 14-0 season and got the Div. III bowl nod.
“We’ve been to NCS and won it before,” Malic said. “We wanted to do something Salesian had never done before “” go to state. I think we deserve it. We’re 13-0. We beat everybody on our schedule. Look at what we did in the championship game.”
What they did in the championship game was dominate every facet. The score speaks for itself: After a back-and-forth first quarter in which neither team really found a rhythm, the Pride offense found the end zone three times in the second to turn a 7-0 nailbiter into a 28-0 rout at the half.
What goes unnoticed is the defense. Salesian held Ferndale “” which finished 11-2 and had been held under 20 points in just two games this year “” to a grand total of 134 yards of offense and just eight first downs. The Pride throttled the Wildcats’ normally efficient running attack, holding them to 92 yards on the ground. With the run game bottled up, Ferndale tried to open things up in the air, only to see Salesian intercept two passes and defend or knock down 10 more.
“Our kids played a fantastic game all game,” Nightingale said. “The offensive line and defensive line were absolutely dominant. “¦ Offense, defense, special teams “” we absolutely controlled all phases of the game. There wasn’t anything (Ferndale) did that our kids didn’t react to.”
The Wildcats had no answer for Malic, promising junior Michael Page, or the punishing Salesian offensive front led by gigantic Cal-bound tackle Freddie Tagaloa. The Pride racked up 385 rushing yards, with Page “running track” against Ferndale according to Nightingale. Page had 167 yards and two scores on just 10 carries, and gives the Pride Faithful plenty of hope for another successful run in 2012.
“That’s one of my better games,” he demurred. “The juniors just wanted to send the seniors out with a bang.”
Like Malic, Tagaloa longed to play just one more game of high school football.
“We came in as a family, we won as a family and we finished as a family,” he said. “13-0. That’s not too bad. If (the Wildcats) had won, they would have gone to the state championship. Look at the score. I think we deserve to go. We just have to leave it up to the committee. I hope they let us go play.”
Nightingale, too, would have loved a shot at the title.
“I think we’re a state caliber team,” he said shortly after receiving a bracing cooler-shower on a frigid night in Martinez. “That’s out of our hands. You play who’s on your schedule and in the playoffs. It’s entirely up to the section commissioners. If we had 19 fewer kids, we’d be playing for a state championship for small schools.”
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