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Dons unleash long-bottled frustration

11/22/2013, 12:01am PST
By Don Norcross

Cathedral Catholic seeks happy ending after last year's disappointment.

Cathedral Catholic fullback Chris Moliga rumbles toward the end zone in the second quarter for a 45-yard touchdown scamper on a fourth-and-2 play.

Three passes, three completions, two for touchdowns. Not a bad start for Cathedral Catholic quarterback Clayton Dale in a San Diego Section Division I quarterfinal showdown against Olympian on Friday night.

Stomping along the Dons’ sideline after his second TD pass gave Cathedral a 21-0 lead barely 10 minutes into the game, Dale hollered for all to hear, “We came to play tonight!”

That the Dons did, eventually handing the Eagles a 43-7 beating at Cathedral’s Manchester Stadium.

“This is the playoffs,” Cathedral coach Sean Doyle said. “You don’t mess around.”

The game served as a bit of a cleansing for the Dons, one of the county’s proudest football programs. Five straight Division III titles from 2007 through 2011. Seventeen consecutive playoff victories. One state bowl title. No points allowed in the postseason in 2011.

Said Doyle, now in his 18th season of directing the Dons, “We have a certain tradition.”

Then last season, four days before a quarterfinal matchup against Serra — a team that the Dons had trampled 55-7 in the regular season — Cathedral was knocked out of the playoffs.

The Dons had used an ineligible player, a transfer, in all 10 regular-season games. Cathedral reported the violation, which came about because of a clerical error. The penalty: forfeiting all 10 games.

Forfeit more than three games and, by section rules, you’re ineligible for the playoffs.

“After a whole season, all the practices, all the 6 a.m. workouts, it was devastating,” linebacker Xavier Ulutu said. “We were all crying.”

Three hundred and sixty-nine days is a long time for a wound to fester. A Band-Aid can’t conceal the pain. So Thursday, on a cool, damp evening, Cathedral wasted no time venting some frustration.

Five minutes, 25 seconds into the game, Dale faked a handoff, pulled up, and spotted tight end Daniel Plum waving his hands, wide open in the end zone. Dale lobbed the pass. Plum clutched it with his mitts.


Two minutes later, pint-sized Drew Cowell hauled in a punt at the Dons’ 29-yard line, bobbed and weaved his way through some would-be tacklers, and didn’t stop running until completing a 71-yard return for a TD.


Less than 5 minutes later, Dale again faked a handoff and lofted another touchdown pass — this one covering 42 yards, Plum again on the receiving end.

Twenty-one to zip.

“We wanted to make a statement,” Cathedral offensive lineman Aaron Mitchell said.

Barely 2 minutes into the second period, Dale handed the ball to the Dons’ bullish senior fullback, Chris Moliga.

There’s a reason why those first-quarter, play-action passes worked so well. The Dons prefer to travel by ground. Coming into the game, Cathedral had rushed for 2,503 yards and passed for 1,138.

This time, Doyle wanted his side to supply the hammer. On fourth-and-2 from the Olympian 45, Moliga took the ball, pushed the pile, and looked like he would gain 2, maybe 3 yards. Instead, he burst out of a pile and sprinted 45 yards for a TD.

In what surely ranks as one of Doyle’s better understatements, he said of Moliga, “He runs hard.”

Here’s what kind of night it was for the Dons. Cowell bobbled the extra-point snap before locating Plum for a two-point conversion.

Twenty-nine to zero.

Bring on Ramona, the Dons’ semifinal opponent on Wednesday.

As is their tradition, the Dons convened at a player’s home the night before Friday’s game. They scarfed down trays of chicken parmesan, relaxed, laughed — then Doyle asked if the players wanted to say anything.

“We’re a family,” said Mitchell. “We promised last year’s seniors we’d come back, win out, and win CIF for them.”

Walking off the field Thursday night, Doyle said, “This is just the beginning.”

Safety Nicholas Gamez, who intercepted three passes, summed up the players’ feelings: “I think it’s our duty as the Class of 2014 to win one for us and for the Class of 2013.”

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