St. Vincent High School's Mustangs play for the ultimate of their world Saturday afternoon when they face Ferndale's Wildcats in the North Coast Section Division 5 championship game. Kickoff at Humboldt State University in Arcata is set for 1 p.m.
Beginning on Oct. 20 when they faced Tomales at St. Vincent, the Mustangs have faced a succession of five straight must-win games to first tie for the North Central League II Bay Football League championship and then reach within grabbing distance of the NCS championship.
The Mustangs won all five of those crucial contests and have now won seven in a row.
In the championship game, the Mustangs will meet a Ferndale team that has won 11 of 12 games and has a nine-game winning streak since losing its only game to Argonaut of Jackson on Sept. 14.
The game will match two teams that had to battle to the last minute just to reach the championship showdown. St. Vincent scored with just 1:05 to play to defeat California School for the Deaf, 13-12, in the semifinals. Ferndale cut it even closer, scoring with just 12 seconds left to edge St. Bernard's, 13-12.
Quarterback Kyle Chambers' scored the game-winning touchdown for the Wildcats on a one-yard sneak, and he will be a player the Mustangs will have to be concerned about Saturday.
Playing on a wet and soggy turf last week, Chambers threw just eight times, completing two for 67 yards. On a dry field, he can be expected to be a much more prolific and accurate passer. He is also one of the Wildcats' top ball carriers who will run with and without provocation.
The ball carrier the Mustangs must stop is Justin Lang. He carried 17 times in the mud in Ferndale's win over St. Bernard's last week, gaining a tough 63 yards. He has the break-away speed that has given the Mustangs trouble at times during the season.
The real strength of the Wildcats is a swarming team defense that has allowed more than two touchdowns just four times and more than three just twice, and one of those games was a 69-28 blowout of South Fork.
St. Vincent's own defense has also been outstanding. While much attention has been given to the wide-open and very potent St. Vincent offense, the Mustangs have played consistently strong defense all season.
St. Vincent gave up 44 points in an early season loss to CSD, but last week in the crucial NCS playoff game, the Mustangs held the Eagles to just two touchdowns and shut them out in the second half.
Senior Michael Carroll is not only St. Vincent's inspirational leader, but the heart of the Mustang defense. He has a team-best 114 tackles on the season. Carroll leads an outstanding St. Vincent linebacking corps that also features outstanding sophomore Zach Sitchler and senior mainstay Derek Murphy.
On the other side of the ball, Murphy will be adding to his 1,000-plus-yard rushing total that now stands at 1,009. Quarterback Mitch Sheppard will be looking to add to his 2,116 passing yards and extend his streak of throwing a touchdown pass in 23 consecutive games. Sheppard's favorite target, senior Arman Yektaparast, will be trying to keep alive his streak of catching a pass in each Mustang game this season.