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Defense guides Dons over Saints in high stakes Holy Bowl

DEL MAR HEIGHTS – In a highly anticipated Holy Bowl, defense was the decider. Friday night before a capacity crowd at Manchester Stadium, second-ranked Cathedral Catholic relied a stellar defense effort to a 17-3 win over fourth-ranked St. Augustine in the 46th annual installment of the religious rivalry.

“We’ve been working hard all week and we knew we could stop them as long as we played our game,” said Cathedral Catholic defensive back Alex Edwards-Johnson. “That’s exactly what we did.”

Defense dominated the first three quarters of the game, and headed into the fourth quarter both teams were tied at three. Early in the fourth quarter, an interception by Cathedral Catholic defensive back Patrick Downing put the Dons in position to break the tie.

“They didn’t want to throw it and get interceptions, but then they had to because we were stopping the run,” Edwards-Johnson said.

Downing’s interception gave Cathedral Catholic (9-1, 5-0 Eastern) the ball at the St. Augustine 32-yard line. Six plays later the Dons turned the short field into a go-ahead touchdown when Xavier Ulutu scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 4:33 remaining.

St. Augustine (9-1, 4-1) fumbled the ball back to Cathedral Catholic on the ensuing kickoff, but the Dons returned the favor less than 90 seconds later when running back JJ Stavola was hit and lost the ball. After the recovery, the Saints stood 78 yards from a game-tying touchdown with 2:57 left.

“There’s no secrets between us,” said St. Augustine head coach Richard Sanchez. “There’s nothing we haven’t shown them already.”

St. Augustine moved the ball down to the Cathedral Catholic 25-yard line with 1:25 left, but the Dons had one more stop in them. Looking for receiver Austin Phillips along the sideline, Saints quarterback Joe Kennedy threw a pass that Edwards-Johnson intercepted and returned 86 yards for a touchdown that sealed the victory.

“I thought it was coming to my side, I watched the quarterback and he threw it right to me,” Edwards-Johnson said.

Cathedral Catholic intercepted Kennedy five times in the 14-point win, as the senior nearly matched his prior season total of six. A consistent pass rush led by defensive ends Kyle Davis and Casey Palid forced Kennedy to throw on the run, and zone coverage by the Dons made the St. Augustine right-hander pay for errant throws.

“Coach John Montali does an unbelievable job preparing our kids and I think our kids were very very well prepared,” said Cathedral Catholic head coach Sean Doyle. “Our kids picked it up and did a lot of film study this week.”

In dealing rival St. Augustine its first loss of the season, Cathedral Catholic captured the Eastern League championship and is expected to receive the top seed in the Division III playoffs. Neither team seemed surprised at the thought of a potential postseason tilt that would come in Qualcomm Stadium.

“The chances are pretty good that we’ll see them again in the playoffs,” Doyle said.

Both schools filled Cathedral Catholic’s Manchester Stadium to its brim on Friday night and both sides were standing room only before the game started. The defensive slugfest that ensued didn’t take away from an electric atmosphere.

“It was awesome with all the fans filling the stadium,” Doyle said. “That’s high school football and that’s the way it should be.”

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