DOWNEY — Bishop Diego High’s football team graduated from finishing school this week.

The Cardinals held fast to defeat previously unbeaten St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy 26-6 on Friday just six days after surrendering a 17-point lead in their first defeat of the season.

“Particularly after last Saturday, it was very nice to see how our kids responded and how they finished,” coach Tom Crawford said. “That was a tough opponent that was very, very athletic, so to get the win and play well was a nice way to end the non-league season.”

The Cardinals (4-1) bounced back from a 38-34 defeat to Central Fresno which they led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter. They set the tone from the start on Friday, with Bryan Trejo intercepting the Warriors on the first play of the game and again on their second possession.

“Bryan also had a third interception that went for a touchdown that got called back for roughing the passer,” Crawford said. “We put them in position where they felt they had to turn to their ground game.

“It was a testament not only to the pressure we put on the quarterback, but also to the play in the secondary. A lot of guys made big plays.”

Quarterback A.J. Vele made the big plays for Bishop’s offense, passing for two touchdowns and rushing for another.

He put the Cardinals on the scoreboard with 1:39 left in the first quarter on a third-down pass to tight end Garo Nahabedian from the 13-yard line. Vele’s 58-yard TD run off a quarterback keeper extended the margin to 14-0 in the second period.

“He’s started to play with good confidence … He’s getting better,” Crawford said. “This was a fast, physical game. He handled the moment very well.

“Once again, we faced an opponent that clearly made up their mind that they wanted to take away the running game. At times, there were eight, nine guys in the box, very close to the line of scrimmage.”

Trejo jumped on the scoring bandwagon with a field goal that was set up by Roy Luvu’s blocked punt with just 30 seconds left before halftime. Trejo’s 38-yard kick split the goal posts with only 0.3 seconds left before halftime.

“He made it by quite a bit,” Crawford observed. “It was a nice way for us to close out the half knowing that we were getting the ball to start the third quarter.”

Although SPXSMA focused its defense on Bishop’s running game, the Cardinals were able to spring Qu’ran Gossett loose for a big play on a screen pass. He took Vele’s toss 80 yards to the end zone on just the third play of the second half to increase their lead to 24-0.

The Warriors (4-1), who had routed their previous four opponents by a combined margin of 165-to-38, tried to make their move at the end of the third quarter. They recovered a fumble deep in Bishop territory and quarterback Brady Shaffer cashed in the turnover with a three-yard TD pass to tight end Frank Childs.

But the Cardinals turned the tables by also turning over the Warriors. Misa Paiau forced a fumble which Nahabedian recovered to halt the Warriors’ next drive.

Canaan Ramirez sacked Shaffer at his own one-yard line to thwart the Warriors’ next possession. They hiked the subsequent punt snap out of the end zone for a safety to complete the game’s scoring.

“Pasefika Salatielu, playing one of the D-end spots, put a lot of pressure on their quarterback,” Crawford said. “Henri Benoit, likewise, at the middle linebacker position.

“We got Su’e Luamanu back (from an injury) after two weeks, so it was great to get him going. He’s a force on the defensive line. He’s so strong.”

The victory spoiled the home debut for SPXSMA, which had won its first four games on the road. The Warriors had come into the game with higher rankings from CalPreps— 47 to Bishop’s 58 in the state poll and 30 to the Cardinals’ 37 in the CIF-Southern Section.

“It was an outstanding defensive performance for us,” Crawford said. “They have such dynamic athletes that we accomplished what we needed to do, which was avoid the big play.

“The guys felt more comfortable and they were physical throughout.”

Bishop will take next week off to get ready for its Marmonte League debut against St. Bonaventure in Ventura on Sept. 30.

“We’ve done what we can in the non-league and hopefully, with the week off, everyone gets healthy and we’re ready to go,” Crawford said.

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at The opinions expressed are his own.