KEZAR STADIUM — In an abbreviated 2018 campaign, Sacred Heart Cathedral quarterback Cian Dowling didn’t get to show off his scrambling ability or his strong arm, playing in just six games after he became eligible following a transfer from St. Ignatius.
On Friday, he finally got to show off his legs and his arm, but lack of depth and an unproven defense proved to be the Fightin’ Irish’s undoing on Friday night.
After keeping things close with Acalanes through three quarters, the Irish didn’t have enough without concussed playmaker Tyrice Ivy Jr., and fell 44-14 as the Dons scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not going to use injuries as an excuse, but we’re banged up,” head coach Barry McLaughlin said. “We don’t have the depth to replace Tyrice and you’re going to be hearing about Bruce [Uperesa] for some time. We had probably 30 guys tonight playing in their first varsity football game. We started three sophomores in the secondary and two juniors at outside linebacker that hadn’t played varsity football.”
Soccer star Dylan Rogers looked stellar at wide receiver, hauling in five passes for 74 yards even as he was forced into a more prominent role with Ivy missing the first game of his junior season with a concussion. Ivy is expected to return for next Friday’s game against Palma. Unfortunately for Sacred Heart Cathedral (0-1), Uperesa won’t be back so soon after fracturing an orbital bone in a boating accident last weekend. He had surgery on Thursday and even returning by the end of October would be an optimistic projection, and linebacker Danilo Ruiz will miss his senior season after undergoing knee surgery.
That left a patchwork defense to handle things against a Dons team that had put up 75 points last week, and while linebacker Santiago Calero put up a valiant effort and both Stephen McCarthy and Evan-Branch Haynes recorded sacks, it wasn’t enough to slow down Acalanes (2-0), even after the Dons lost starting quarterback Mikey O’Donnell to an ankle sprain late in the first quarter on a big hit by McCarthy.
With two-year starter Anthony Heard graduating, Dowling proved that he didn’t need a bell cow to hand off to as he ran 19 times for 80 yards, even with six sacks putting a dent in his totals.
“I was able to run the ball well on the first drive but then probably bit off more than I could chew the rest of the first half,” Dowling said.
He scrambled for gains of 17 and 37 yards on back-to-back third downs, then hit Rogers for a 21-yard touchdown on another third down.
“I’ve known Dylan since we were five years old,” Dowling said. “He’s a really talented athlete, and this was his first time playing football since his freshman year. He can make plays at any time.”
While the Irish were struggling to find depth beyond Dowling and Rogers, Acalanes found its rhythm.
Junior quarterback Brady Huchingson started on JV last year, and was projected as the third-stringer on varsity until Washington baseball commit Nick Kresnak decided to give up football. Huchingson jumped into action the moment O’Donnell got hurt and took control of the game. He connected with Jake Delaney for a 43-yard gain on third down, then hit a wide-open Ryan Reilly in the end zone on fourth down for a game-tying 15-yard score before the first quarter ended. It set the tone for a night where Huchingson would complete 13 of 21 passes for 259 yards and three scores. He wouldn’t throw consecutive incompletions until the fourth quarter.
The defenses held in the second, with back-to-back sacks by Joey Carrillo and John Kalil pushing the Irish out of the red zone with three minutes left in the half.
“Cian’s a gamer and he wants to make plays, but he has to know where to make the play and where not to make the play,” McLaughlin said.
After the hosts gave it up on downs, the Dons were quick to capitalize, with back-to-back completions from Huchingson to Jack Muren covering nearly half the field and setting up a 27-yard field goal by Hunter Ridley to go into the half up 10-7.
Muren caught a 33-yard touchdown to cap off the opening drive of the third, though the Irish would quickly answer with an 11-play drive of their own. Dowling connected with Rogers for a 26-yard gain on a gutsy call to go for fourth-and-11, and SHC finished it off with sophomore Derek Reagans III’s nine-yard touchdown run.
“He came up big and just ran power,” Dowling said.
Reagans III (6 carries-31 yards) was arguably the most promising of the possible heirs to Heard’s role, alternating carries with Kieran Cormican and Kyle Masangkay. His touchdown run was one of the last positives on the night for the Irish, who let Acalanes across midfield with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The Dons then one-upped SHC’s fourth-down conversion from the prior drive as Lucas Eppinger made a one-handed catch for a 27-yard gain to set up a three-yard Delaney touchdown run. A turnover on downs at the Acalanes 45 early in the fourth started an onslaught in which the visitors would put the game completely out of reach.
A 40-yard scramble by Huchingson wouldn’t lead directly to any points, but it put the Irish deep in their own territory after a turnover on downs, and a pass off an SHC receiver’s hands on the ensuing drive was intercepted by Carson Gragg to set up another Delaney touchdown. Muren caught his second touchdown of the night with 5:25 left to cap off a six-catch, 151-yard performance, and Nic Rossi scored in the final minute as the Acalanes backups finished the game off.
“I’m not going to be able to sleep much the next three to four nights,” McLaughlin said. Had the Irish capitalized off of Delaney’s fumble on the kickoff after taking a 7-0 lead and finished off the drive late in the first half, it could have been a completely different story. “We’re going to get better. We’ll take the good, analyze the good, analyze the bad and flush the ugly. Your biggest improvement is from game one to game two.”
That improvement will have to come against a Salinas-Palma team that won’t do quite as much through the air as Acalanes, but the Chieftains can run the ball with the best of them. In Friday’s 47-31 loss to Mitty, Anthony Villegas ran for 285 yards and four touchdowns.