A game between the two youngest coaches in the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) ended up looking like it was played in the days of leather helmets.
Connor Tripp’s 39-yard field goal, which doinked off the left upright before going through with 7:23 remaining, accounted for the only points as Bellarmine beat Riordan 3-0 in a game that was completely devoid of the high-flying spread offenses that the Bells and Crusaders had shown off in prior weeks.
“We weren’t expecting that,” Bellarmine head coach Jalal Beauchman said. “I think both teams went into this expecting the outcome would be a little different, at least on the scoreboard, but it was a game of inches. An inch or two to the left, and we’re still playing right now.”
Tripp’s field goal capped off a 15-play drive that covered seven minutes and 10 seconds as Bellarmine (3-2, 2-0 WCAL) converted four third downs, three via run play and one via an offsides penalty, to register the game’s lone score.
“We tried to turn the game into a street fight and make it physical,” Riordan head coach Adhir Ravipati said. “We didn’t get into a great rhythm on offense, but our defense played their hearts out.”
Bellarmine lost running back Ben Pfaff, who scored four touchdowns a week ago in a win over St. Ignatius, to an ankle injury on the first play from scrimmage, and the Bells mustered just 27 passing yards against a Crusader defense that didn’t allow a pass play of more than six yards. Quarterback Parker Threatt’s 36-yard scramble on the Bells’ third offensive play was the longest of the entire game, and only three other plays, all Threatt runs, went for double-digit yardage.
Without running back King Njhsanni-Wilhite (collarbone) and wide receiver Zachary Jones (ankle), Riordan (3-2, 1-1) couldn’t do much better. The Crusaders only had four offensive plays of more than 10 yards to their name, two of which came on the opening drive. Michael Mitchell Jr.’s 29-yard completion to Zion Wells put the hosts in the red zone, but Bellarmine’s Christian Farias, the last line of defense, brought Wells down at the 15. A false start and two incompletions forced Riordan to attempt a 38-yard field goal, and Finnbarr never got a clean kick off after a botched hold.
The Bells held the ball for nearly 10 minutes in the second quarter, but had nothing to show for it. They gained just 37 yards on an 11-play drive that stalled out on a fumbled handoff and ultimately culminated in a punt, and facing third-and-goal at the Crusader 2 with 11 seconds left in the first half, Threatt was intercepted by Je’Mon Brown, who would have had an improbable 103-yard touchdown if not for a heroic chasedown tackle by junior guard Tom Reilly as time expired on the half.
Riordan was held to three first downs in the second half, all of which came in the third quarter. The Crusaders started their second drive of the half at Bellarmine’s 45 after the wind knocked down a Jack Raney punt, and a double reverse to Wells brought the hosts to Bellarmine’s 20, but they lost yards on the following three plays, including a botched snap on third down that took them out of field goal range.
After the Bellarmine field goal, Charlie Johnson got stuffed on fourth-and-1. The trio of Jacob Kleppin, Jordan McQueen and Sebastian Padilla teamed up to stuff the Bells on downs with 3:42 remaining, but Mitchell couldn’t lead a heroic game-winning drive. He was flushed out of the pocket on third down by Jae’Von Reels, and Reels batted down his pass at the line on fourth down with 2:15 to go and Riordan down to one timeout. Threatt picked up a first down on back-to-back runs, allowing the visitors to enter victory formation and secure their 21st consecutive head-to-head victory against Riordan.
Threatt finished the day with 89 rushing yards across 15 attempts, while Riley Paran ran 24 times for 84 yards after Pfaff went down. Bellarmine was also without top deep receiving threat Colin Lakkaraju.
Mitchell finished 13-of-21 passing for 83 yards, with 48 of those yards going to Wells, but the Crusaders averaged just 2.4 yards per rushing attempt without Wilhite.
“Hopefully we’ll get some guys back in the next few weeks and we’ll make a run,” Ravipati said.
Though he was visibly distraught by the outcome, Ravipati’s attitude was markedly different than two weeks earlier, when a much healthier Riordan team got crushed by Sacred Heart Prep.
“We learned a lot of lessons from the SHP game,” he said. “The kids are getting better, and they’re fighting. I’m really proud of our kids. Some guys had to play some new spots. I just told them after the game, ‘let’s stay together and keep building.’”
Riordan faces Mitty (4-1, 1-1) next Friday at Foothill College. Bellarmine hosts Serra (5-0, 1-0) at San Jose City College, the Bells’ traditional site for home games. Serra beat Mitty 35-7 on Friday.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]