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St. Vincent puts it together for ‘great' season

Senior Mitch Sheppard was a threat to run, but a bigger threat passing, completing 164 of 280 passes for 2,483 yards and 27 touchdowns.

SUMNER FOWLER/FOR THE ARGUS COURIER
Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 1:43 p.m.

It began with questions and ended with St. Vincent on the wrong side of a blowout, but for Mustang coach Gary Galloway, it was a “great” football season.

Facts

THE ST. VINCENT SEASON

St. Vincent 34, St. Bernard’s 21
St. Helena 44, St. Vincent 14
St. Vincent 21, Cloverdale 14
St. Vincent 51, Steller Prep 7
CSD 44, St. Vincent 17
St. Vincent 56, St. Elizabeth 12
St. Vincent 34, Emery 20
St. Vincent 34, Tomales 0
St. Vincent 42, Upper Lake 6
St. Vincent 47, Calistoga 21*
St. Vincent 13, CSD 12*
Ferndale 53, St. Vincent 14*
*North Coast Section playoff games

“I can't remember when we've had a team that turned it around from the first two weeks of the season like this one did,” Galloway explains. “The defining characteristic of this team was how the players decided to make the most of their time as high school football players.

“This was a fun team to be around in practice and in games. They were really a joy to coach.”

St. Vincent wasn't exactly shabby early, beating St. Bernard's, 34-21, in the season's opening game.

But there were signs of struggling. St. Helena, one of the best small-school teams in the North Bay, took it to the Mustangs pretty good, 44-14, and California School for the Deaf used its speed to hand the Mustangs their first and only loss in the newly formed North Central/Bay Football League, 44-17.

The turning point, according to Galloway, came against rival Tomales on a sunny Saturday afternoon on St. Vincent's artificial turf.

Billed as a showdown game, the contest was about as one sided as the shootout at the OK Corral, with the Mustangs stopping the Braves cold, 34-0.

That win was the third in a string of six straight for the Mustangs before it was ended by powerhouse Ferndale in the North Coast Section Division 5 championship game.

Included in the streak were back-to-back wins over Calistoga. The first win assured St. Vincent a tie for the league championship. The second came in the first-round of the playoffs.

In the NCS semifinals, the Mustangs showed just how far they had come, stopping CSD, 13-12.

Ferndale was simply too good for St. Vincent in the division championship game, but even in defeat, the Mustangs earned the respect of their opponents and the Ferndale fans.

“We played a team that was better than us in every aspect of the game,” Galloway acknowledges. “They were bigger, stronger and faster. Our guys respected them and they respected us. I had several people tell me how they respected the way we gave 100 percent and for the sportsmanship we showed.”

Key to the St. Vincent improvement was its front line. At the start of the season, Galloway was literally roaming the school hallways looking for linemen. “In one of our first practices we split into units and the unit for linemen only had three players,” Galloway recalls.

By the end of the season, St. Vincent was rotating 12 players up front on offense and defense.

Those who bought into sacrificing their own stats for the good of the team included Max Brennan, Gio Gonzalez, Aidan Lynch, Marco Ricci, Jason Pech, Jordan Pech, Nick Braun, Jongwhee Park, Sean-Carlo Afre, Danny Rodriguez, Alexander Jacomo and Yazen Attallah.

“They were the heart of the team,” Galloway says. “Everything started with them.”

But the St. Vincent development was certainly not contained to the offensive line.

“There was improvement all around,” Galloway says, pointing out that 12 different athletes were nominated as the team's most improved.

The award went to senior wide receiver Arman Yektaparast, who caught a pass in every St. Vincent game. He finished with 55 receptions for 854 yards and five touchdowns.

Yektaparast led an impressive array of St. Vincent receivers that included Patrick Garcia, Michael Carroll and Zach Smith.

Galloway says it was more than just their pass-catching ability that made the group impressive. “In our offense we rely on our receivers for their downfield blocking, and we had some very good downfield blockers,” he explains.

Throwing to the receivers was the most prolific passer in St. Vincent history.

For the season, senior Mitch Sheppard completed 164 of 280 passes for 2,483 yards (his second season passing for more than 2,000 yards) and 27 touchdowns, with just six interceptions. He averaged 191 passing yards a game and finished with a 111 quarterback rating.

Extending back over two seasons and one game he started as a sophomore, Sheppard completed touchdown passes in 24 consecutive games.

Galloway says there are three things that made Sheppard an outstanding quarterback — his leadership, his ability to see the entire field and his knowledge of the game and the St. Vincent system. “He was like having a coach on the field,” Galloway says.

Although St. Vincent's spread offense demanded that opposing defenses concentrate on stopping Sheppard and his corps of outstanding receivers, the Mustangs were also a strong running team, led by Derek Murphy and George Sammon.

Murphy , although only 155 pounds, was both tough and elusive. He rushed for 1,176 yards and 17 touchdowns.

“He's a gamer,” Galloway says. “He makes the most out of every minute he is on the field. He has a lot of desire. He is a very smart football player.”

Sammon, a sophomore, provided speed outside. He rushed for 571 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

Carroll was the heart of the St. Vincent defense.

“He was a real sparkplug,” Galloway says. “He provided great senior leadership. He was really physical. Mentally he made the decision to make himself a better player. He only had one speed — all out.”

Carroll had a team high 134 tackles.. He also made two sacks, had two interceptions and recovered a fumble.

While he was the leader, a lot of people had a hand in what developed into an outstanding St. Vincent defense. Among the many who contributed were Murphy, who earned all-league honorable mention for both his offensive and defensive play, along with standout linebacker Zach Sitchler, Smith, Garcia, Sean Healy, John Kulasingam, Jack Richardson, Danny Rodriguez and Braun.

Galloway also gives much of the credit for the team's success to his coaching staff.

“They were just great,” he says. “They did a lot of teaching and coaching of our philosophy.

His staff included three members of the Galloway family, nephews Justin Galloway (defensive coordinator), Taylor Galloway (offensive coordinator) and the head coach's son, Ryan Galloway, a former SVstandout player.

Also helping were line coach Jim Koniaris, running backs and secondary coach Joe Murphy, special teams coordinator Bill Pedersen, line coach Wes Sitchler and trainer Nick Terlizzi.

Galloway says the coaching staff did a great deal of instilling in the players a team philosophy of playing with urgency and playing for the moment.

It all added up to a a 10-3 record, a league championship, a trip to the NCS championship game and a fun year for the coach.

“It gets me excited about next year,” he says.

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