Tied at halftime, Salesian coach Chad Nightingale reinforced the notion to his team that they were in a good position, and that things would go their way over the final two quarters.
"I told them that everything would be fine, as long as we held on to the ball," Nightingale said. "We were our own worst enemy in the first half."
Salesian made his words prophetic, as the Pride's defense held Ferndale to a three-and-out on its first possession of the third quarter, and then embarked on an eight-minute drive to take the lead, on its way to a 50-29 victory over the Wildcats in the North Coast Section Division 7 title game.
Quarterback Ronald Robertson's short touchdown run late in the third quarter gave the Pride a 28-21 advantage, one which they never relinquished. Robertson then hit Elijah Satcher for a touchdown pass in the first minute of the fourth quarter, and Satcher reached the end zone to make it a two-score lead.
"In the first half we were hurting ourselves with our own mistakes," Robertson said. "Coming out of halftime I told our team if we limit our mistakes and capitalize on our opportunities we would run away with this game. And that’s what we did."
The Pride continued to extend their lead after a Ferndale fumble, as a screen pass from Robertson to Kareem Sullivan went for another score, and the defense then got in the act when Kailan Chang returned an interception for a touchdown, the final nail in the coffin.
"Our O-line had a great day opening holes up for our running backs and giving me time to throw," Robertson added. "Our defense stepped up big time making huge plays. Kailan’s pick-six gave us all the momentum that we needed for the rest of the game."
The fact that Salesian took advantage of two turnovers in the second half was a stark contrast to the first two quarters, when it was Ferndale which stunned the Pride early and then took advantage of Salesian miscues. Lane Branstetter went 70 yards on a trap play for a touchdown on Ferndale's first play from scrimmage, following a touchdown run by Salesian's Justin Gutierrez on the first drive of the game. That made the game 7-7, but would be the only significant yardage of the half for Ferndale.
Salesian moved out to a 21-7 advantage before an inexplicable touching of a punt resulted in a Ferndale recovery, and a short touchdown run for Jenner Christiansen. That was followed by an interception and another short touchdown run for Ferndale, this time for Landon Gomes. When Salesian's final drive of the first half ended in a spiked ball as the clock hit zeros - one final miscue in the first two quarters - the teams went to the break tied at 21, despite a 236-88 advantage in total yards for Salesian in the first half, and that included the 70-yard run by Branstetter.
With the win, Salesian captures its first section title since 2014, which had capped a run of four section titles in five years. Now the Pride also advance to their first-ever CIF NorCal game, heading south to face Santa Cruz in the CIF 6-A bracket this coming Saturday night.
"We are just absolutely thrilled to be at this stage," Nightingale said. "At this point, everyone is good and playing some pretty good football."