Undefeated Bishop Diego High entered Friday night’s game against the Mission Prep football team averaging 279.5 rushing yards per game through the first four contests.
It didn’t take the Royals long to find out the visiting Cardinals can throw it just as well.
Bishop Diego junior quarterback Spencer Stovesand threw for 274 yards and four scores, and the Royals offense couldn’t break through until late in a 31-14 defeat in Mission Prep’s Homecoming game.
“Our secondary is terrible,” coach Chad Henry said. “We are very young in the secondary. “I think we did a good job up front … and forcing them to pass. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that great of a job adjusting during the game.”
The Royals held Bishop Diego’s leading rusher, Abel Gonzalez, to 1 yard on five carries, but the senior leaked out of the backfield and caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Stovesand for the game’s first touchdown.
It was the first of three first-half passing scores for the Cardinals, which included a 49-yard fly to Alvoid Bennett after Mission Prep forced Bishop Diego into a third-and-18.
“We were told all week that they throw the ball seven times a game,” junior defensive back and wide receiver Patrick Miller said. “We were really expecting run, but they made some big plays and kept rolling with it.
“It makes sense to keep throwing the ball if it’s working.”
That score with 4:13 remaining in the first half made it 24-0, and while the Royals were able to move the ball on the ensuing drive, the half ended when Bryce Fledderman and Carson Brown couldn’t connect on fourth-and-3 from the Cardinals’ 7.
It was the first sustained drive of the game for Mission Prep, which turned the ball over on three of its first four possessions.
“We really didn’t even know what we could do,” Henry said. “It’s hard to make an analysis of what we’re going to do offensively when we’re constantly giving the ball back.”
Things didn’t start off much better in the second half, when the Royals received the kickoff but fumbled the ball away three plays later.
“You can’t win a game with four turnovers,” Miller said. “It just doesn’t happen.”
The Royals (3-3) made it somewhat interesting late, scoring 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter on a 9-yard pass from Fledderman to Brown and a 5-yard run by Jack Balentine with 3:24 to play.
“I think we had a good game plan coming in,” Henry said. “In the second half, when we were able to hold on to the ball, we did a good job running it and mixing in some throwing.
“Turnovers have been a big factor in all of our losses, and we have to do a better job taking care of it.”
Andrew Boncich recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Fledderman was sacked twice on the next drive to end any hope of a miraculous comeback.
“Everything’s a learning experience for him,” Henry said of his sophomore quarterback, who finished 9 of 24 for 92 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a lost fumble. “Every rep he has, he has to get better. We can’t continue to repeat mistakes. He’s a young guy. He has to learn how to believe in himself, trust his eyes and make his reads.”
Dyllan Smiley finished with a game-high 75 rushing yards on 17 carries for the Royals, but lost a pair of fumbles. Balentine came on in the second half and provided a spark, running downhill for 64 yards and a score on 12 carries.
The Royals outgained Bishop Diego 119-39 on the ground and recorded five more first downs, but the early turnovers and inability to slow down Stovesand is what pushed the Cardinals to 5-0.
“We have young players in the secondary right now that just need to grow up in a hurry as we enter league play,” Henry said. “It’s been a sore spot for us all year; big plays in the passing game.”
Added Miller: “We’ve been switching guys in and out trying to figure out who fits in where, and it’s still kind of up and down.”
Brown finished with five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, while Miller, last year’s quarterback who entered the game with a team-high 170 receiving yards, was held to two first-half catches for 17 yards.
“We’ve got to bounce back from this,” said Miller, as the Royals open Northern League play next week at Templeton. “We need to see what we did wrong on film and we need to move on.
Internalize this, process it and come back to practice on Monday with Templeton on our minds.”