JJ Says: St. Vincent football team wasn’t just good, it was special

It wasn’t just because they were good, but because they were a team and they played the game the right way.|

Every year I remind area coaches that we (me and them) are much luckier than the players.

Regardless of the outcome of the final game of any season, we get to come back next year. I feel like I have already lapped Social Security age and yet, in a certain sense I have never graduated. The same can be said for area coaches. Every year we experience the happiness and heartaches, the triumphs and the tears and come back for more.

And remember that, with very rare exceptions, every season ends with a loss. You can win a league championship and still lose in the North Coast Section playoffs. You can win an NCS pennant and lose in the CIF playoffs.

Almost every season ends the way the season ended for St. Vincent’s Mustangs last Saturday night – with unabashed tears.

Clear Lake’s 56-55 win over St. Vincent was especially painful because the 2022-23 Mustangs were special. It wasn’t just because they were good, but because they were a team and they played the game the right way.

I have seen a lot of good teams over the last half century. Some were champions and some were exceptional. I have seen only a handful that were both winners and exceptional. I refrain from comparing teams – it is a fool’s game that you can’t win. Everyone has an opinion. But there are very few truly exceptional teams.

I will say this. The St. Vincent team that is handing in its equipment this week was exceptional.

Its accomplishments speak for themselves: 12 straight wins, an undefeated North Bay League Oak championship, a second-place finish by a single point in the North Coast Section playoffs. Until the final game against Clear Lake, only two teams – St. Bernard’s at 35-24, and Hoopa Valley at 28-15 – came within two touchdowns, and those game were well decided by the fourth quarter.

St. Vincent never embarrassed an opponent, most of the season playing the fourth quarter, and even the second half, with reserves. They just beat their opponents and got ready for the next game. Every game was a challenge. Coach Trent Herzog wouldn’t allow them to think any other way.

In an ironic way, St. Vincent’s own success was ultimately its demise. Going into the game against Clear Lake, the Mustangs had never been in a close game. They had little experience with a game on the line because no game had been on the line all season.

That isn’t to say that, with the game on the line, the Mustangs didn’t battle. In fact, they looked to have the game against Clear Lake well in hand with a 41-27 lead in as wild a half of offensive football as I can recall.

That lead remained at two touchdowns until Clear Lake scored on the third play of the final quarter.

The hurt came midway through the last quarter when quarterback Jaret Bosarge broke a 23-yard touchdown run that was waved back by an illegal procedure penalty. It was a legitimate call. The Mustangs had two men in motion at the same time. For the first and only time in the second half, St. Vincent was stopped.

Clear Lake proceeded to march 73 yards on a drive that included three fourth-down conversions. A stop anywhere along the way and St. Vincent would still be playing football.

Last season, St. Vincent did win the North Coast Section title, beating St. Helena 54-32 and advancing to the CIF Northern California playoffs, where they were beaten in the Sierra foothills community of Jackson by a talented team from Argonaut High School 42-12.

That loss hurt, but there was a feeling that St. Vincent had gone about as far as it could go.

It was different this year. The feeling was that the Mustangs could have gone farther. Not that Clear Lake didn’t deserve to win. It did. But there was left a lingering “What might have been.”

There isn’t time to recognize all the things that made the Mustangs exceptional, but you have to start with Kai Hall, the Redwood Empire’s all-time career rushing leader. I refuse to compare him to other great high school backs, but I can count on one hand the others who compared with his talents. You can talk about speed, strength, durability, but his most unique talent was simply an ability not to be tackled. Defenders could hit him, grab him, mug him and he was often still standing when he hit the end zone from 2 to 70 yards distant.

But it certainly wasn’t Hall alone. There were many good players who made the St. Vincent team one of the best from any size school in the Redwood Empire. Many are underclassmen who will bring enough talent back for another good season next fall.

But the foundation was four seniors who have been with Herzog for four seasons. They know thoroughly what the coach’s version of Mustang football is all about. In addition to Hall, quarterback Bosarge, Mr. Everything Nathan Rooks, and Cameron Vaughn, a young man whose size is exceeded only by his intellect, were really what made this year’s team different.

“They are like coaches on and off the field,” Herzog said. “I never had to motivate this team. They always had everyone ready to go.”

I will have more to say about each of these young men as we get into recapping the season, but the truth is that St. Vincent had a very good team made special because of the four seniors.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)

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