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Bellarmine football’s outstanding 2015 peaked with an upset win over NorCal-power Folsom   By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor   The road to state...

Bellarmine football’s outstanding 2015 peaked with an upset win over NorCal-power Folsom

  By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor

  The road to state for Bellarmine was long and rough at times. A lengthy Friday evening commute from San Jose to Folsom for the CIF Northern California Division I-AA Championship was no pleasant drive, but the Bells were driven to play their best game and prove detractors wrong.

  The Bells’ challenging early season schedule against top NorCal competition included a road game at State Division II-AA qualifier, Del Oro-Loomis, in addition to the West Catholic Athletic League gauntlet. But it was exactly what Bellarmine (13-1) needed to take on the task of earning a return trip to Sacramento for the CIF Div. I-AA State Football bowl game on Dec. 18.

  “It hasn’t been easy,” senior running back Antonio Garcia said immediately following the team’s 42-35 upset of Folsom. “I think we play in the best league in Northern California, and I feel like we proved that tonight.

  “Everyone online was saying how we were going to have a long bus ride home and we took that as motivation.”

  Garcia played a large role in the thrilling road victory at Folsom, scoring the tying and winning touchdowns on fourth-quarter runs to set up a comfortable bus ride home and one final road trip to Sacramento State. After being used primarily as a blocker for most of the game, Bells coach Mike Janda finally called on Garcia to carry the ball in crunch time.

  Janda, who became the winningest coach in Central Coast Section history with the NorCal bowl win, noticed Folsom was defending the pass more in the second half. So the coach spread his receivers out wide to open up the middle for the 5-foot-9, 175-pound back to go right up the gut of the Bulldogs’ defense. The game-winning score came on a 31-yard burst with just 0:58 seconds remaining, and the ensuing defensive stand ended Folsom’s 30-game winning streak and a streak of 43 straight home wins.

  But, as it has been for the Bells all season, the victory was a complete team effort.

  Senior quarterback Troy Martig was efficient with his passes that included scoring strikes of 43 and 71 yards in the first half while senior Vincent Fernandez turned in an impressive two-way effort that will not soon be forgotten. On offense, the 5-foot-8 running back was able to grind out key yardage on the ground and made some big catches, including a game-extending 24-yard reception in the fourth quarter when Bellarmine faced a 4th-and-12 on Folsom’s 39-yard line. He would later set up Garcia’s game-winner with an interception and 54-yard return in the game’s final minute.

  “He had a fabulous game,” Janda said of one of the game’s heroes. “He’s not a very big guy and not all that fast, but he plays with a great heart. He plays huge.”

  Said Fernandez of his big game, “It doesn’t get better than this. This is the greatest game I have ever had and I am going to remember it for the rest of my life.”

  The game will be remembered by many more than just Fernandez because it sends Bellarmine to its third CIF State Bowl game. The Bells are 0-2 after five-point losses to Oceanside in 2009 and Santa Margarita-Rancho Santa Margarita in 2011. The game’s wild fourth quarter made the 2015 NorCal final an instant classic.

  The game was tied at 21, 28 and 35, and Folsom took its first lead (35-28) when Tre Green scored on a 24-yard run with 4:19 left in the game. The deficit for the Bells came after they controlled the first half and built a 21-7 lead in the third quarter, but no one on Bellarmine panicked when momentum apparently shifted to the home side.

  “We didn’t say anything,” Janda said. “The guys, within themselves, knew that they had to make some plays. It was internal. They knew it. They came through.”

  Janda credited his team for facing adversity and responding to the challenge, and pointed to the journey through the WCAL as a reason for his team answering the call late in the game.

  “Every week (in the WCAL) is a grinder,” he said. “It helps us to be in the middle of tough, tight games for these kinds of situations.”

  The situation only gets bigger and tougher when Bellarmine faces another undefeated foe. The Bells play Mission Viejo (15-0), which also came from behind to win their regional bowl game, taking down Helix-La Mesa. The Diablos’ offense is much different than the Folsom offense Bellarmine held off. Mission Viejo features a work horse running back in Colin Schooler who carried the ball 38 times for 160 yards in the regional final.

  Mission Viejo trailed Helix 28-20 with less than five minutes remaining in the game before Schooler scored the second of two late touchdowns with 1:59 left in the game. Like Bellarmine, the Diablos’ deciding score was set up by a turnover, and their defense held off Helix with an interception to seal the victory.

  Janda and his team understand the competition will be strong and the road doesn’t end with just making the trip to Sacramento State as a state-bowl finalist. The Bells will face the challenge with the same preparation, work ethic and deep roster of weapons that has carried them during their long journey.

  “(Assistant) Coach (Mike) Henry always says ‘We fear no one because we outwork them,’” Garcia said. “And that couldn’t be more true. No one except for the guys in our locker room know how hard we work from January 2 all the way until now.”

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