Determined St. Vincent rallied for three consecutive second half touchdowns to hold off a challenge by Calistoga in a 47-21 victory that cemented a piece of first place in the North Central II/Bay Football League title chase.
The Mustangs closed out the regular season tied for the top spot with California School for the Deaf of Fremont with a league record of 5-1. CSD will be rewarded by being the league's designated champion for the NCS playoffs by virtue of an earlier win over St. Vincent.
"The game tonight was really a battle to get us into the No. 3 slot in the playoffs," said Mustang coach Gary Galloway. "Ferndale will get the top spot because they won their league and are shooting for the state playoffs in the small school division this year. We should get a home game in the first round."
Calistoga made things difficult at the Napa County Fairgrounds by scoring the opening touchdown of the second half to narrow an earlier deficit to only 27-21 before the Mustangs got down to business and broke the game open.
The home standing Wildcats had no answer for the quick-striking St. Vincent offense that again went into high gear by using no huddle and not allowing any defensive player substitutions.
The most punishing play of the game came on a short pass play from quarterback Mitch Sheppard to Derek Murphy that covered 57 yards for a touchdown.
Murphy grabbed the pass in the middle of coverage and somehow maintained his balance under pressure in breaking across the field to plunge a dagger into any further Wildcat hopes.
Defense played a huge role in the second-half domination by the Mustangs. Two interceptions gave St. Vincent a big change of momentum and a short field for more offensive fireworks. The Mustangs finished with four interceptions in the contest.
The work of linebacker Michael Carroll was outstanding. Already mentioned by Mustang coaches for his fine defensive efforts leading into the game, Carroll closed out his senior regular season by seemingly making a defensive play on every other Calistoga ball possession. He finished with 12 tackles and a pass interception. Carroll punctuated his performance by making a stop on the special team on a kickoff and turning in a couple of tackles for losses.
Quarterback Sheppard had another very productive night with four touchdown passes including throws to Arman Yektaparast, Zach Smith, Murphy and Carroll. Sheppard was 11-13 for 220 yards.
After St. Vincent struck first on a couple of Sheppard passes, Calistoga came storming back to take the lead with a couple of touchdowns of its own, utilizing the running of junior Dylan Alvarado.
The Wildcat advantage lasted less than 12 seconds. Yektaparast grabbed the kickoff in full stride and rambled 97 yards for a touchdown through most of the oncoming special team defenders to help St. Vincent rebuild the advantage to 19-14.
The Mustangs closed out the first half with some trickery that paid off. Sheppard threw a backward pass to Murphy, who stopped before reaching the line of scrimmage and lofted a rainbow toss to a wide open Smith far behind the Calistoga secondary on a play that covered 49 yards. It was the second touchdown of the night for the senior wide receiver.