SportStars Magazine

Cardinal Newman Football: No. 9-Ranked Cards Set For No. 3 Liberty

Cardinal Newman football

Can A Talented Cardinal Newman Squad Led By A Gritty Senior QB Become The First Non-De La Salle Team To Beat Liberty In Nearly Two Years? •

The fanfare that follows one of the nation’s top quarterback recruits shouldn’t overwhelm the Cardinal Newman football program Saturday, when the NorCal No. 9 Cardinals (3-0) travel from Santa Rosa to face No. 3 Liberty-Brentwood (4-0) at Freedom-Oakley.

Oregon commit Jay Butterfield is special, but Cardinal Newman football coach Paul Cronin has seen this before. From 2006 to 2012, Cardinal Newman played against Jimmy Clausen, David Fales and Jared Goff. 

The Cardinals certainly weren’t overwhelmed then.

Before a sterling career at Notre Dame and a six-year stint in the NFL, Clausen’s Oaks Christian-Westlake Village team beat Cardinal Newman 27-20 (overtime) in the Division III State Bowl game in 2006. Cronin’s squad held Clausen to 94 yards, one touchdown and forced three interceptions.

Two years later, Cronin beat Fales and Palma-Salinas 34-33. Fales would go on to play for San Jose State before being drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2014. Just this week, Fales was signed to become the backup quarterback for the hard-luck New York Jets.

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Goff starred at Marin Catholic-Kentfield before becoming the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams. He knocked the 2012 Cardinal Newman football team from the North Coast Section Div. III semifinals, 42-37.

“When you face guys like that, it’s kind of out of your control how well they throw the ball,” Cronin explained. “You have got to put your guys in the best situation to make a play on the ball.

“We don’t talk about them as much as how well we have to execute.”

To match the output of Butterfield (5,424 career yards, 65 touchdowns, 18 interceptions), Cronin can rely on his own reputed signal caller, albeit with less collegiate interest, but with plenty of talent.

At 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 193 pounds, senior Jackson Pavitt is four inches and 17 pounds shy of Butterfield. Nonetheless he’s a talented dual-threat leader with a blossoming pedigree of wins. He’s won all but one game (vs. Liberty in 2018) and is undefeated in the playoffs, since last year’s fires forced a season-ending coin flip.

Cardinal Newman football, Jackson Pavitt

Jackson Pavitt looks downfield for an open receiver against Placer. (Ike Dodson photos)

“I think his biggest strength is that he is a super tough kid,” Cronin said. “He is very competitive, just a smart player that understands defenses and loves the game so much.”

Since he took the job last year, Pavitt has completed over 73 percent of his passes. He’s thrown for 3,095 yards, 36 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He was Newman’s second-leading rusher last year (11 scores) and is easily on pace for more than 2,500 total yards in the new campaign.

“My goal for the season is to play my best in every game and do my job,” Pavitt said. “I want to make my teammates better and help them out so we can all have a great experience this year.”

It was Pavitt’s heroic heave in the final moments of a Sept. 6 game at Placer-Auburn that preserved Newman’s perfect record. The Hillmen appeared poised to run out the clock with under two minutes to play. Then Newman recovered a fumbled pitch, and Pavitt drove the squad to the Hillmen goal line before a fade to Tsion Nunnally won the game.

Tsion Nunnally

Tsion Nunnally has been a go-to target for Pavitt this season.

“Just one day before that game, Tsion and I were out on the field throwing that exact same goal line fade,” Pavitt said. “At the end of the Placer game, we just looked at each other and knew we had literally been repping this moment all summer, and we knew what to do.

“I didn’t even throw my best ball. But he went up and made a crazy catch, which makes me trust our connection even more.”

Nunnally (14 catches, 234 yards, four touchdowns in three games) is in a sense the hearty replacement for a sensational receiving corps from 2018. Chauncey Leberthon elected not to play college football, but he and Jake Woods represented one of the best receiver duos in the state. Woods now plays at the United States Military Academy Prep School, where Army grooms its elite young talent. He caught two touchdowns in the schools’ first game of 2019.

Cardinal Newman sports an enrollment under 700 students and a roster of just 39. Many players play both ways, like freak-of-nature Shane Moran. The 5-10, 185-pound junior delivers punishing blows as a runner and linebacker, and was responsible for 13 tackles against Placer. He played a critical role in bringing down Placer’s star fullback, Hans Grassmann. The Hillmen standout was held to less than 100 yards rushing. Giancarlo Woods (Jake’s younger brother) is also a star on both sides (receiver/defensive back).

Moran has been offered a baseball scholarship by Long Beach State. Giancarlo Woods, Nunnally and Pavitt have each drawn college interest. Yet, as of Sept. 20, no one on the team has been offered a scholarship, or is committed to a college football program.

Shane Moran

Cardinal Newman linebacker Shane Moran makes one of his 13 tackles in the win at Placer.

It’s one of the reasons why Cardinal Newman will be underdogs Saturday, but Pavitt seems to relish another chance to go head-to-head against Butterfield, who bested him 304-72 (passing yards) in last year’s dogfight.

“It’s going to be fun to take on that challenge,” he said. “I have been studying Liberty film since the Saturday after our Placer game.

“Attention to detail is something we love to focus on.”

Game time is set for 6 p.m.

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One Comment

  1. SportStars

    September 23, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Newman Coach Thomas Bonfigli commented: You guys do a great job covering our high school athletes. We try to teach our kids to play our way–maximum effort as a team –fundamentally sound–in both football and basketball our teams consistently have come up with stellar performances. On Saturday a superior team beat a very good Cardinal Newman team barely–I am so proud of our kids and our coaches. You always write a great article–thanks

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