SportStars Magazine

Cardinal Newman Football: From The Ashes

Cardinal Newman football

Close To A Year After Its Community And Campus Were Ravaged By The Tubbs Fire, Cardinal Newman High Football Won A True Homecoming Game •

SANTA ROSA — Nearly 11 months after the Tubbs fire ripped through Northern California, the pains remain for communities still rebuilding from the devastation that inflicted over $1 billion in damages. For Santa Rosa, at least one thing is back to normal — Cardinal Newman football.

Cardinal Newman football, Jackson Pavitt

Cardinal Newman QB Jackson Pavitt extends for the extra yard in a nonleague win over Sutter on Aug. 24. (Photos by Ike Dodson)

On Friday, Aug. 24, the Catholic high school, a North Coast Section powerhouse with an enrollment of 600 students, celebrated its first home game since the Tubbs fire scorched the Larkfield-Wikiup area north of Santa Rosa, charring school offices, classrooms, even soccer and baseball fields.

Ed Lloyd Football Field dodged the flames and provided a rehabilitative setting for the Cardinals’ 24-0 shutout of the winningest team in the Northern Section —if you are counting banners — Sutter.

Cardinal Newman (2-0) showcased a dazzling aerial attack and tenacious defense. Both of which allowed it to overcome penalties and turnovers that would normally stymie a team.

But this program has extraordinary resolve.

“We’re blessed,” Cardinal Newman Coach Paul Cronin explained. “We have an administrator (Dean and former Principal Graham Rutherford) who played on undefeated Cardinal Newman football teams back in the ‘70s.


Cardinal Newman football, Jake Woods, Noah Steverson

Seniors Jake Woods (7) and Noah Steverson congratulate one another after a successful play during the 24-0 win over Sutter.

“He makes our jobs easier because he knows what it takes to be a good football program. He allows us that opportunity because of his experience.”

Rutherford played on Cardinal Newman’s NCS Div. 3A championship team in 1975, the year the section inaugurated its postseason. He won another NCS title in 1976. Since then, Cardinal Newman has stretched 10 more NCS Championships across six more divisions.

The section transformed over the years, ultimately dividing programs into five divisions of enrollment in 2008. It established its current format in 2016 after mercifully nudging De La Salle-Concord into an “open” division.

Since Cronin took the reigns of the program in 2002, the Cardinals have went 160-43. They’ve won nine North Bay League championships with a remarkable 94-14 conference stanza in his tenure.

Cardinal Newman football, Jackson Pavitt

In two games, Jackson Pavitt nearly had as many TD passes (8) as he had passes from scrimmage (9) as the 2017 backup.

His elite programs have forged their own identities. With the school still smoldering, last year’s squad rallied to overcome displacement and etched a triumphant story of rebirth. Cardinal Newman practiced 10 miles away at El Molino-Forestville. They played their home games at Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa High and Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park. The team finished 10-3, won another North Bay title and dropped a 59-56 thriller to Marin Catholic-Kentfield in the NCS Div. III finals.

This year’s identity is still up for grabs.

“I think this group… we’ve come to grips with the fire,” Cronin said following the win over Sutter. “We’re moving on as a unit, so I don’t think we look at it the same way.”

“Getting it done back at home was really nice,” Cardinal Newman quarterback Jackson Pavitt said. “Our offensive line did great, our receivers did great and our team just played well.”

Cardinal Newman football, Chauncey Leberthon

The 6-foot-1 Chauncey Leberthon is part of perhaps the most dangerous small school receiving trio in the NCS.

Pavitt only tossed nine passes last season. In two games this year, he’s completed 34 of 46 passes for 501 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He has no shortage of worthy targets.

Jake Woods (6-5, 205 pounds), Chauncey Leberthon (6-1, 185) and Julio Angel (5-7, 140) may represent the best small-school receiving corps in the state. The three combined for 25 catches, 298 yards and eight touchdowns over the team’s first two games.

Woods caught two touchdowns last week and even plucked an interception from Sutter QB Cory McIntyre.

“We never quit, never give up,” Woods said. “It was our first home game back since the fires, so we felt like we had to put on a show for everybody.”

It was a Cardinal show all right.

Cardinal Newman had 388 offensive yards to Sutter’s 113. The famed Sutter rushing attack, which will surely beat up on Northern Section teams this season, was held to 83 yards on 28 attempts.

Cronin credits that defensive display to his stalwart senior linebackers Nick Wall (6-0, 210), Dino Kahaulelio (6-1, 230) and Porter Tett (5-9, 175). Since Kahaulelio played up as a freshman and Wall, Tett joined as sophomores, the three represent Cardinal Newman’s most significant grouping of veteran leadership.

“Those linebackers have multiple section championship games under their belt,” Cronin said. “They are coaches on the field. We are blessed to have them in the same senior class.”

Cronin seems to constantly be counting his blessings at Ed Lloyd Field.

It’s a tradition even fires can’t burn away.

One Comment

  1. Kevin Walli

    August 31, 2018 at 11:19 pm

    Nice to have them back on the home field. Going to be a great season!

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