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Co-champions clash in semifinals

Mitch Sheppard is the only St. Vincent quarterback ever to pass for 2,000 yards in back-to-back season. He will also run with the ball as he leads the Mustangs against California School for the Deaf in Fremont Saturday afternoon.

SUMNER FOWLER/FOR THE ARGUS-COURIER
Published: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 11:42 a.m.

The football playoff that couldn’t happen during the regular season will happen Saturday afternoon in Fremont when St. Vincent’s Mustangs clash with California School for the Deaf’s Eagles.

The two teams tied for the North Central II/Bay Football League championship during the regular season and, while they will forever be co-champions, Saturday’s North Coast Section Division 5 playoff game will at least give the winner bragging rights.

Of course, it will do much more than that, sending the winner into the NCS semifinals and the loser home to contemplate an outstanding season.

The game will match two of the most potent small-school offenses in the NCS. The Eagles have simply run over people on their way to a 10-1 season. Their only loss was to Upper Lake, 20-3, a surprising defeat that cost them a perfect season and the outright championship.

The Eagles are possibly the most explosive offensive team the Mustangs have faced this season.

In their first meeting, Eagle running back Brian Freeman proved unstoppable for the Mustangs, breaking off touchdown runs of 54 and 62 yards. As a team, the Eagles totaled 523 combined yards against the Mustangs.

But St. Vincent cannot afford to crowd the box to stop Freeman. Last week in their playoff win over Tomales, the Eagles struck through the air, with quarterback Carlos Lopez throwing four touchdown passes. Lopez was eight of 15 in the game for 180 yards. Tomales held Freeman to 115 yards, but that discounts a 51-yard run that was called back by a penalty.

For the season, Freeman has run for 1,442 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averages better than eight yards per carry and 144 a game. Lopez is 80 out of 157 for the season for 1,354 yards and 19 touchdowns for a 104 quarterback rating.

Defensively, the Braves have been outstanding. They have recorded three shutouts, held potent Upper Lake to a field goal and allowed high-scoring Tomales just three touchdowns in two games.

Linebackers Johnny Morales and Jacy Pedersen-Dike are the CSD tackle leaders, but the key to the Eagles is a swarming defense that puts a lot of helmets around the football.

CSD might find it a lot more difficult to stop St. Vincent Saturday than it was during the league season. Since that loss, the Mustangs have run off six straight wins, out scoring their opponents, 247-65 during that streak.

For the first time since any one can remember, St. Vincent has both a 1,000-yard rusher and 2,000-yard passer.

Derek Murphy has rushed for 1,009 yards and scored 16 running touchdowns. What makes his total even more impressive is his presence on the bench for much of the second half of the games during the winning streak after the Mustangs had put contests out of reach.

Quarterback Mitch Sheppard has gone over the 2,000-yard passing threshold for the second consecutive year, completing 134 out of 217 passes for 2,116 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has passed for at least one touchdown in 22 straight games.

St. Vincent had a difficult time containing Freeman in its regular-season meeting with CSD, but the Mustang defense is vastly improved since that contest.

Linebackers Michael Carroll and Murphy have simply taken over recent games on defense, including last week’s convincing 34-6 win over Calistoga in the first round of the playoffs.

Biggest improvement between the league meeting and Saturday’s clash has been on the Mustang lines, both on offense and defense. St. Vincent is deeper and much more experienced.

“We’re a different team now,” says St. Vincent coach Gary Galloway. “The first time we didn’t handle their speed very well. We didn’t tackle very well.

“They are a great team, but we’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re pretty confident.”

Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

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