Bishop Diego was stunned by a lightning-quick blow from El Modena’s quarterback on the first play from scrimmage in Saturday night’s CIF-SS Division 3 quarterfinal football playoff game.
Sophomore Xzavior Guess faked a handoff and used his incredible quickness and speed to break off a 68-yard touchdown run.
Bishop Diego shook off the quick hit with some big plays of its own and beat previously undefeated El Modena, 31-21, at La Playa Stadium to advance to the division semifinals.
The Cardinals (9-3) will travel to Upland on Friday for a spot in the championship game.
Bishop responded to every El Modena score, and Qu’Ran Gossett and Garo Nahabedian combined on huge defensive play late in the second quarter that led to an important touchdown for a 28-14 lead at halftime.
Misa Paiau came up with another key play in the fourth quarter as he blocked a 25-yard field goal attempt with 5:24 left to keep the Cardinals ahead by two scores.
“You want them on the field on every play, and really the coaching part of it is trying to figure out when they need to get a break to be as effective as they are,” said Bishop coach Tom Crawford of Gossett and Paiau. “Both those guys tonight really stepped up.”
Gossett made a massive play after the Bishop offense failed to capitalize on a pass interception by Paiau. On first and 10 at midfield, Gossett chased a scrambling Guess and grabbed ahold of his jersey with his right hand and poked the ball out with his left. Nahabedian picked up the ball and rumbled to the El Modena 20-yard line.
Two plays later, Bishop quarterback AJ Vele threw a strike to Liam Flood on a slant pattern for a touchdown and 28-14 lead with seven seconds remaining in the first half.
Crawford described the last three minutes of the second quarter as “a blur.”
“Misa made that wonderful interception to stop a drive and then we don’t do anything with it,” he said. “Then the fumble happens. It was just a real hustle play. Qu’Ran is so athletic. He was the one kid that was at times matching the quarterback’s ability.
“That was a real special play and, as it turned out for us, to be able to score off of that was huge to have a two-lead score at halftime.”
Gossett said he was just going for a sack on the play.
“I wasn’t even trying to go for the ball, I was just trying to hit him and luckily I got him,” said Gossett. “He’s quick, really fast.”
Paiau’s big play came after Gossett stopped Guess for a 1-yard gain on a fourth and 5 at the Bishop 8 in the fourth quarter
Down 31-21, the Vanguards elected to go for a field goal to make it a one-score game. Paiau got up and blocked Blake Armstrong’s 25-yard attempt.
“I kind of stumbled there but I jumped and I saw the ball and blocked it,” said Paiau of the play.
It was a huge blow to the Vanguards.
“I thought we went toe-to-toe with them for the most part,” said El Modena coach Matt Mitchell. “We just had a couple of breakdowns. Offensively, we had a couple of turnovers here and there, penalties. We kind of let it slip away a little bit and then we came back a little bit. I thought the second half we had a shot. Good game, we were a little short at the end there.”
Bishop responded from El Modena’s quick touchdown by scoring on its ensuing possession. Vele mixed in a couple of pass completions with runs by Gossett and Paiau on a 58-yard, 7-play drive, and Gossett finished it with a 10-yard run on the left side of the line. Bryan Trejo’s PAT tied the score at 7-7 at 7:42 of the quarter.
Su’e Luamanu and Paiau pressured Guess into an intentional grounding penalty and the Vanguards were forced to punt on their next possession.
Bishop took over at the 50 and scored the go-ahead touchdown after a slew of penalties. On a third and 30, Vele threw a perfect pass to Trejo, who caught it in stride in the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
“I thought AJ, in the first half in particular, threw the ball really, really well. He bought time when he needed to and made great decisions with the ball,” said Crawford.
El Modena’s Guess used his quickness and juking ability to freeze two Bishop defenders and score the tying touchdown on a 4-yard run.
Bishop answered with an 81-yard drive, highlighted by a 44-yard run by Paiau. Gossett finished the drive with runs of 5, 10 and 1 yard for the touchdown and a 21-14 lead with 4:20 left in the second quarter.
Paiau led the Cardinals with 114 yards on 10 carries, while Gossett rushed for 106 yards on 21 carries. Vele completed 5 of passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns and had one interception.
Guess completed 12 of 15 passes for 146 yards and was intercepted once. He rushed for 127 yards on 12 carries and scored three TDs.
Guess made a terrific play to bring the Vanguards within 28-21. He fielded a low snap, paused and then ran 5-yards for a touchdown with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
But Bishop responded again with a score. The Cardinals went on on an 80-yard drive, all on the ground. Paiau had the big play of the drive with a 27-yard run to the El Modena 17.
The Vanguards’ defense contained Gossett on two runs, leaving the Cardinals to try a field goal.
The question was whether Trejo would be doing the kicking as he limped off the field earlier.
Crawford said one of his assistant coaches told him the back-up kicker was ready, but Crawford wanted to know Trejo’s condition.
“I said, ‘Well, how was Bryan?’ We both turned and Bryan was already on the field. So, it really didn’t turn into a coaches’ decision. I think Bryan wanted to take that kick.”
Trejo booted the 30-yard field goal without any problems, giving Bishop a 31-21 lead with 11:58 left in the fourth quarter.
Bishop’s defense finished out the game. Henri Benoit, Gossett, Paiau, Pasefika Salatielu and Luamanu all made big plays to keep El Modena from scoring again.