Division II State Bowl: Cathedral Catholic vs. St. Mary's
Dons cap perfect season with state title thriller
For the second straight season, a San Diego school is bringing home a Division II state football title. Cathedral Catholic beat St. Mary’s of Stockton 37-34 in a thriller Saturday at the Home Depot Center.
“It means everything. Every good team goes to CIF – it takes a real team to win state,” said Cathedral Catholic running back Tyler Gaffney. “And that’s what we wanted to come out here and prove for San Diego football.”
With 5:54 left against St. Mary’s, the Dons found themselves in uncharted territory – trailing late. The Rams looked like they had just delivered the knockout blow in the form of a Chad West 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
But four plays later, Gaffney struck back with a 51-yard touchdown run to give Cathedral Catholic a 37-34 lead. And with St. Mary’s at the Dons’ 34-yard line on the next possession, Rams quarterback Cody Vaz threw an incomplete pass on fourth down that would give the ball, and the victory, to the Dons.
“It was close the whole time, back and forth for the whole game,” said Cathedral Catholic linebacker Ryan Downing. “They put up a hell of a fight, but we came out on top in the end.”
For the Dons, it was Gaffney who literally did it all on Saturday. Cathedral Catholic’s star senior had 329 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 33 carries, caught two passes for 23 yards, made four tackles, threw a pass for 30 yards, and even blocked an extra point in the third quarter.
“The coaches put me out there and just tell me to be athletic,” Gaffney said. “That’s all they asked of me and I just tried to give my best.”
With both teams coming in averaging more than 40 points per game, the game had the makings of an offensive shootout. From the beginning, it lived up to expectations.
Cathedral Catholic got on the board less than two minutes in when Gaffney scored on a 36-yard touchdown run on the Dons’ opening possession. St. Mary’s wasted no time pulling even, marching 78 yards in 3:25 capped by a Cody Vaz 28-yard touchdown pass to Alex Michaels.
Before the first quarter ended, both teams would find the endzone again. Gaffney scored on a one-yard run and Vaz found Louie Leichich for a five-yard score.
“We had two good offensive football teams on the field tonight,” said St. Mary’s head coach Tony Franks.
After Gaffney scored on an 18-yard run midway through the second quarter to put the Dons ahead 20-14, both defenses tightened up. Three defensive stops closed out the first half, with Cathedral Catholic still ahead six at the break.
In the third quarter, the Dons went ahead by nine on a Roman Ferreira 27-yard field goal. But St. Mary’s took the ensuing drive for a score – a Vaz eight-yard pass to Leichich – to make it a three-point game.
Ahead only 23-20 early in the fourth, Cathedral Catholic’s offense still looked like it would not be stopped. But near the end of a long run by Gaffney, the Dons’ senior back was stripped and the St. Mary’s recovered.
“I broke a tackle and I went to speed up and my arms came out further than they usually do,” Gaffney said. “He just wrapped around and hit it.”
The Rams capitalized on Gaffney’s second fumble of the entire season, driving 85 yards to take the lead 27-23 on a Vaz nine-yard touchdown pass to Michaels. The Oregon State bound Vaz finished the game 31-of-46 for 336 yards and four touchdowns, setting a bowl game record for passing yards.
“He’s a hell of an athlete,” Gaffney said of Vaz. “He gets things done.”
Before West’s kickoff return, Gaffney scored from one yard out to put Cathedral Catholic ahead by three. A halfback pass from Gaffney to Hipp on fourth and 10 a few plays earlier set up the score.
“We’ve been working on that all year and we knew it was going to come down to something,” Gaffney said. “I’m like, ‘hey we got that play,’ we used it, and luckily it worked.”
The win brings the Division II state title back to San Diego for the second year in a row. Last year, Oceanside beat Novato 28-14 in the Division II bowl game.
“It’s such a relief,” said Dons head coach Sean Doyle. “This week has been crazy with all the media and all the attention and just having to get everything ready for this game.”
Cathedral Catholic has now won 21 games in a row dating back to last season and finished this season 14-0. The 2008 season has been perfect for the Dons – and their state title is the perfect ending.
“It’s the best feeling of my life,” Downing said. “I can’t believe it.”
More like this:
- Division II State Bowl Preview — Dec. 16, 2008
- Division III: Cathedral Catholic vs. Valhalla — Dec. 12, 2008
- Game of the Week Part II: Lincoln at Cathedral Catholic — Oct. 18, 2008
- Game of the Week: Cathedral Catholic at Otay Ranch — Oct. 4, 2008
- Game of the Week: Point Loma at Cathedral Catholic — Sept. 14, 2008