Bishop Diego High’s defense bent but didn’t break.
Its offense, on the other hand, seemed to snap off a big play any time it needed one.
Three of the Cardinals’ first eight plays went for touchdowns of between 62 and 75 yards in their 35-14 football victory over Bakersfield’s Garces Memorial on Friday at SBCC’s La Playa Stadium.
“That was the story of the game — no long drives or lots of plays, but we had some big plays,” Bishop coach Tom Crawford said. “And defensively, we hung tough.”
The Rams (1-2), which came into the game ranked No. 6 in the CIF’s Central Section, ran nearly twice as many plays as Bishop, 53-27. The Rams also gained 19 first downs to the Cardinals’ eight. Bishop had a slight edge in total offensive yardage, 374 to 321.
But five different Bishop players broke off long TD runs, beginning with Qu’Ran Gossett’s 66-yarder in only the third minute of the game.
“We’ve got other young guys who can run the ball, as well,” said slotback Bryan Trejo, who added a 62-yard TD run barely three minutes later. “But usually it’s Qu’Ran putting on a show.”
Unbeaten Bishop (3-0) got off to a rough start offensively with back-to-back penalties and a quarterback sack, backing it up to its own 3-yard line.
But quarterback A.J. Vele connected with Liam Flood on a 26-yard pass, setting up a fourth-down play at the Bishop 34-yard line with one yard to go for a first down.
Crawford rolled the dice, and Gossett responded by rolling right past the Rams for his 66-yard TD.
“I was going, ‘Oh my gosh, is this one of those games when it’s going to take us a while to settle down?’” Crawford said. “It’s funny because the one thing we told our kids was that we had to do a better job of how we start games defensively, and then to go backwards like that at the beginning?
“Everyone takes a sigh of relief when Q makes a run like that.”
Gossett, who came into the game averaging 22 yards per carry, finished with 120 on just eight attempts. He also had a 26-yard, direction-changing dazzler to start the second half and set up Bishop’s fifth and final score.
“He was going toward our sideline and he cut back across the field,” Crawford pointed out. “Their pursuit was pretty good. They played hard until the whistle, but he still made a lot of guys miss.
“He’s so strong and dynamic. Tonight was nice because we got some other guys going that we think are explosive players, too.”
Trejo made a cut-back move on a sweep which helped spring his 62-yard TD run midway through the first quarter. He got a downfield block from Vili Fano to complete his long jaunt.
“Coach likes me running that jet sweep,” Trejo said. “They were playing hard outside so I just made a cut, and my blockers did a good job of blocking for me.”
Bishop rushed for 348 yards on 21 carries. Junior Misa Paiau gained 83 on four attempts —all in the first half. He burst straight up the middle to score the Cardinals’ longest TD of 73 yards to improve their lead to 21-0 with 40 seconds left in the first quarter.
Roy Luvu scored Bishop’s final touchdown on a 49-yard jet sweep late in the third period.
“A lot of those guys on the offensive line are two-way guys,” Crawford said. “There was a lot of rotation on the defensive line, in part, to have some continuity on the offensive line. They play hard and they’re starting to gel as a unit.
“This was not necessarily an easy defense to run against … They reacted very, very quickly and triggered on some things that they thought were runs. Guys had to play with their eyes up. But I felt we did a pretty good job of that.”
Garo Nahabedian recovered a fumbled punt at Garces’ 43-yard line to set up Bishop’s fourth touchdown of the first half. Vele went the final 24 yards after calling his own number on a quarterback draw.
The Rams finally scored with just 34.7 seconds left before halftime on Jordan Gallegoz’s 29-yard pass to Cage Williams.
Nahabedian (eight tackles) and the rest of the Cardinals’ linebacking crew had a busy night against Garces’ option offense.
The Rams rushed for 261 yards on 45 carries behind a three-headed monster of David Smith (120 yards on 15 carries), R.J. Green (91 yards on 18 carries), and Gallegoz (46 yards on 11 carries).
“A lot of times our linebackers like Garo were taking on a lead blocker that was coming with speed and pretty good size,” Crawford said. “This was a good game for Garo. He’s a physical kid, and when he trusts himself and trusts what he sees and flashes, he makes a lot of plays.
“Henri Benoit in the middle made a couple of big hits at critical times on some third-and-short-type things.”
Bishop twice stopped long drives by the Rams. Garces marched to the Cardinals’ 27 midway through the second period before stalling on a tackle by Nahabedian and a fourth-down sack by Tristan Fui.
The Rams started the second half with a 12-play drive to the Bishop 23, but Paiau broke up Gallegoz’s pass on fourth down.
Garces scored its second TD on Green’s one-yard plunge with just under 10 minutes left in the game.
The Cardinals, who were ranked 46th in this week’s CalPreps state poll, will return to action next Saturday with a 4 p.m. game against No. 43 Central High of Fresno.
“We’ve been telling the guys that each week is a little bit of a stepping stone, and what to expect, and the preparation we have to have to be competitive in league,” Crawford said. “The next couple of weeks are going to be really big for us just in terms of taking that next step.”