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Reaching NCS playoffs just a start for St. Vincent football

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Call it rebuilding, rejuvenating or returning to glory — it all started this season for St. Vincent High School football.

And, according to St. Vincent coach Trent Herzog, it was just that — a start.

“We (meaning him and his coaching staff) are sad to see the seniors go, but we are very excited about next year,” the coach said. “We are definitely looking forward to our future.”

After winning just three games in the previous two years, St. Vincent went 6-5 and reached the North Coast Section playoffs.

Herzog is quick to point out that the change wasn’t so much about the coaching switch that brought him in to replace Gary Galloway after Galloway’s three decades of success at St. Vincent as it was about the culture at the school.

“It had nothing to do with Gary Galloway,” Herzog said. “He did a great job. The change started with Principal Pat Daly and the school administration. He had a vision, and he has given me support from day one.

“I told him we needed a new weight room, it was taken care of; I told him we needed a new team room, it was taken care of; I told him we need a coaches’ office, it was taken care of.”

There were also new helmets and new uniforms.

What wasn’t new were the players. St. Vincent turned its season into a success with players who had been through the down years of the previous seasons.

There were five transfers listed on the initial St. Vincent roster, four from Casa Grande and one from Cardinal Newman, but three of the four from Casa were ruled ineligible for the entire season by the North Coast Section.

“The players learned to trust the coaches and trust the process,” explained Herzog. “They put St. Vincent back on the way to the playoffs.”

Playing an independent schedule, St. Vincent won its first four games, beating McKinleyville, 18-0; San Rafael, 44-30; Elsie Allen, 48-6; and Harbor, 28-14.

“Once we beat McKinleyville, the players knew they could be competitive,” the coach noted. “Then we went to San Rafael (to play a team from the Marin County Athletic League), and they realized they could score some points.”

Then came Burton and a dose of reality. The Panthers, a strong 6-3 team from San Francisco, rolled over the Mustangs, 54-21.

“Our kids were intimidated by Burton,” Herzog noted, “but even in that game they were competing.”

St. Vincent came back to score three touchdowns in the second half, getting to within two touchdowns of the Panthers.

“We ran out of gas,” Herzog said. “We had 37 guys on the roster, but that included the transfers who were ineligible and some kids who were too young to play varsity football.”

The St. Vincent roster included 11 sophomores and 13 freshmen.

After the Burton game, the St. Vincent schedule got a little weird. The Mustangs were overmatched against Williams, losing, 50-0; played Piner as a substitute for a team that canceled and lost, 27-7; rebounded to beat California School for the Deaf, 20-14, in a Thursday night game; accepted a forfeit over Madison Park Academy to assure a spot in the Division 5 playoffs; and lost a tough game to Harker, 7-6, when they were stopped an inch short of a first down late in the game after they had driven into the red zone.

In last weekend’s playoff game at Middletown, St. Vincent was again overmatched against a deeper and more experienced team, but for the youthful Mustangs, the goal was just to get there.

Next year, it will be different as the Mustang youngsters build on the experience gained this year and the team adds the now-eligible transfers.

“I won’t say we’re going to win, but we will be competitive with the teams that beat us this season,” Herzog said.

Biggest improvement from start to finish in this year’s team was on the offensive line.

Connor Yowell anchored the front at center and earned praise from his coach. “He was a great leader,” Herzog said of the senior team captain. “He was totally unselfish and bought in all the way.”

When yardage was needed, the Mustangs ran behind a pair of strong juniors, Gio Antonini and Giovanni Vaca. Herzog is eagerly awaiting their return next season.

The rest of the line was brand new and very young. It included rotating guards Garrett Caramucci (sophomore), Dennis Welsh (freshman), Terrece Chappin (freshman), Andrew Pech (sophomore) and almost no depth.

Because of the line’s inexperience, it took St. Vincent a while to get its ground game going, but as the season wore on, the Mustangs became more and more a running team, led by senior Daniel Burleson. He had a big final year of St. Vincent football, running for 764 yards and nine touchdowns. Four times he rushed for more than 100 yards in a game.

“He had a tremendous season,” said Herzog. “He ran hard and he ran tough.”

Andrew Kohler sophomore Devaneaux Sagaral, Diego Reyes and Shamus Edens also contributed to the resurgent running game.

Herzog called Kohler “our Swiss army knife. He played all over — fullback, running back, on the line. He did whatever we asked.”

Earlier in the season, St. Vincent relied heavily on the passing of senior Trent Free, who ended the season completing 78 of 163 passes for 967 yards and 13 touchdowns. Free also provided the Mustangs with an outstanding kicker.

He had a multitude of talented receivers, led by Marcus Mathias, who grabbed a team-high 28 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns. A.J. Fetter had 16 catches for 244 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. Rory Morgan and Andrew Kohler also came up with key grabs over the course of the season.

Defensively, Antonini played like a bear facing a root canal. The junior was credited with 92 total tackles, including 61 solo and 23.5 for loss.

“He is a great player and a tremendous kid,” Herzog said. “He is fun to coach. He could play at any school and be the best player on the team. He is a tremendous three-sport athlete.”

Of course, Antonini wasn’t a one-man defense. A.J. Fetter also had an outstanding season. He finished with 77 tackles, including 14.5 for loss.

Yowell stood strong on the defensive front, often making big stops when they were most needed.

Others prominent on the St. Vincent defense included Burleson, Edens, Morgan, Kohler, Reyes and Vaca.