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Football

Bishop Diego Pulls Out Thrilling Victory at St. Joseph, 24-23

John Harris scores tying touchdown, Jack Luckhurst kicks winning PAT with 42 seconds left in game

Will Goodwin celebrates after Bishop Diego’s exciting 24-23 victory at St. Joseph. Click to view larger
Will Goodwin celebrates after Bishop Diego’s exciting 24-23 victory at St. Joseph. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Bishop Diego kicker Jack Luckhurst told running back John Harris that if he did his job and scored the tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter then he would follow up and do his on the point-after kick.

The pair did their jobs well and the reward was a thrilling 24-23 victory by the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 top-ranked Cardinals over Division 5 sixth-ranked St. Joseph in a tremendous high school football game at Jay Will Stadium on Friday night.

A determined Harris bulldozed 19 yards behind Brian Kim and Xavier Carroll with 42 seconds left to pull Bishop Diego into a 23-23 tie. On the PAT, Mitch Heller sent a perfect snap to holder Jake Engel and Luckhurst blasted the ball through the uprights for the eventual winning point.

"You're shaking for sure," Luckhurst said of attempting a game-winning kick. "But you practice it all the time. It’s not just me, it’s the snapper and the holder too."

On Harris giving him the chance to win the game, Luckhurst said:  "I told him before he went out (on the field for the last drive), ‘John, if you score, I promise you I’ll make the extra point.’ He did his job and I did mine and we get the win. That’s all that really matters."

John Harris of the Cardinals rushed for 236 yards and scored the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Click to view larger
John Harris of the Cardinals rushed for 236 yards and scored the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Bishop coach Tom Crawford was delighted to see his team keeping fighting to the end against a fine opponent.

"It was a great football game,"  Crawford said. "We fell behind, we managed to answer and then they would jump (ahead). Then we would fight back and they would fight right back. It was one of those games that really should have come down to the very end like it did, just the way the teams were playing.

"Hats off to (St. Joseph), they have some real great skilled kids. We made some big plays when we had to make big plays."

After taking the lead, Luckhurst booted the ensuing kickoff into the end zone, making St. Joseph start its drive at its 20 with 42 seconds to go. 

The way standout quarterback Dino Maldonado moved the Knights throughout the game, that was plenty of time for him to put them in position to pull it out.

But Bishop’s defense rose to the occasion. Mitch Heller blocked a Maldonado pass on second down. The St. Joseph quarterback then completed back-to-back passes to Nate Guzman for 17 and 15 yards and scrambled for six. On second and 4 from the 41, Bishop’s Chris Jablonka overpowered the left tackle and sacked Maldonado for a 6-yard loss with 4.4 seconds left. 

"That was key, forcing them to use a timeout," said Crawford of Jablonka's sack.

Maldonado went for the end zone on the final play and the pass was broken up, setting off a Bishop Diego celebration.

Both teams played a terrific game. Maldonado passed for 263 yards on 21 of 37 passes, with one interception, and Knights' running back Jayden Vargas gained 175 yards on 22 carries.

Harris was a workhorse for Bishop, rushing 27 times for 236 yards.

Bishop Diego defenders smother St. Joseph running back Jayden Vargas Click to view larger
Bishop Diego defenders smother St. Joseph running back Jayden Vargas (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

"I came out in the second half and I said there was no way we were losing to St. Joe's a second time, that's all I knew," said Harris.

The Cardinals turned the ball several times and  lost to the Knights last year at La Playa Stadium.

Crawford was thinking it was deja vu all over again when his team turned the ball over twice in the red zone in the first half.

St. Joseph took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter on a 23-yard Maldonado touchdown pass to Mason Biely and a 39-yard field goal by Nathan Halsell. The touchdown was set up by a Joe Doud interception at the Bishop 5 and the field goal came after Timothy Miller recovered a Harris fumble at the 22.

But Bishop made a game-changing play just before halftime. After quarterback Jake Engel passed 12 yards to Harris to put the ball at the Cardinals’ 39, he broke free for a 49-yard run to the St. Joseph 13. Engel rolled to his left, saw an open lane in front of him, sprinted diagonally across the field and then up the left sideline before being knocked out of bounds with 6.9 seconds. 

Luckhurst got the call and converted a 30-yard field goal to make it 10-3 at halftime.

The Cardinals (4-0) put together an authoritative drive to start the second half. Harris broke off runs of 26 and 35 yards to get it started and Evan McKeegan scored the touchdown on a 2-yard run. Luckhurst booted the PAT to tie the score at 10-10.

Bishop’s defense responded by forcing Maldonado and the Knights to punt.

The momentum shifted back to St. Joseph as its defense stepped up and stopped Harris on a fourth and2 at the 34.

Vargas spun off tacklers for a 30-yard run and Maldonado hit Biely for 19, moving the Knights to the Bishop 6. Vargas ran in for the touchdown and Halsell kick the PAT for a 17-10 St. Joseph lead at 1:11 of the third quarter.

Bishop Diego’s offense went back to work. Engel threw long to Harris, who made a spectacular 43-yard catch at the St. Joseph 4.

"That was a great throw by Jake," said Crawford. "I saw John kind of turn and the next thing you know I lose him because everyone steps out in front and I heard the crowd reaction. The (defender) was right there, so for John to come down with that was a real turning point."

A St. Joseph penalty moved the ball to the two and on second and goal from the 1, McKeegan powered into the end zone. Luckhurst’s kick tied the score at 17-17 with 10:11 to go in the fourth quarter.

St. Joseph (2-2) threatened again, but Bishop’s defense came up with a huge play as freshman Luke Knightly intercepted a tipped Maldonado pass at the 1.

The St. Joseph defense, however, kept the Cardinals pinned back inside the 10, forcing Luckhurst to punt from his end zone. He booted a 50-yarder and Guzman returned it to the 25. But the Knights were penalized on the return and the ball was moved back to their 42. 

It didn’t matter to Maldonado and company. He handed the ball to Vargas three times for a total of 34 yards and hit Biely for a 22-yard gain to the 2. Maldonado ran the final two yards for the TD. 

Then came a key play in this see-saw battle of county powerhouse football programs. On St. Joseph’s PAT attempt, it was called for a holding penalty, pushing the ball back 15 yards. Halsell took his conversion kick from 33 yards and missed it wide to the left.

Bishop cashed in on the huge break by giving the ball to Harris, who would not be denied from reaching the end zone. He gained 75 yards on the winning drive, including the final 19 yards behind Kim and Carroll.

"That's one of the super special things about this team," said Harris. "We keep our composure and we keep on grinding as hard as we have to. And we came out on top."

Said Crawford: "I really liked the composure our kids had in the last three minutes, knowing that we had enough time to run the ball and not panic. And John, he got better as the game went on."

Luckhurst then finished the job on the Cardinals’ best win of the season.

Bishop Diego players rush the field after St. Joseph’s final pass falls incomplete. Click to view larger
Bishop Diego players rush the field after St. Joseph’s final pass falls incomplete. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

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