GODDARD – Bishop Carroll’s usually potent passing attack wasn’t working Friday night, so instead of using his arm, senior quarterback Braden Howell used his legs.
Howell called his own number 22 times, rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Golden Eagles escape a gritty challenge from defending Class 5A champion Goddard for a 29-17 semifinal victory.
“What they were doing to us defensively made it difficult to throw the ball,” Carroll first-year coach Dusty Trail said. “They confused (us) a little bit with some of their coverages. They were bringing pressure, and (Howell) was feeling pressure … he definitely made up for it with his legs, for sure.”
The triumph sends Carroll (11-1) into next Saturday’s title game in Pittsburg against St. Thomas Aquinas (11-1), a 55-21 winner over Mill Valley.
“I knew coming into this week that I was going to have to run the ball more,” Howell said. “They’re a very prevent pass defense, and so, yeah (I had) a lot of incompletions (19 in all). I had to use my ‘wheels’ and had to put it on the ground sometimes, and that worked for us.”
Howell’s longest completion of the night came on Carroll’s first score, a 45-yard scoring toss to Joseph Holthusen. None of Howell’s seven other completions went farther than 9 yards.
He said he wasn’t accustomed to being that much of a rusher.
“I hadn’t had to do that in some time,” Howell said. “(Friday night) I don’t think they were necessarily expecting it, so I think that definitely kind of threw them off.”
Goddard senior quarterback Blake Sullivan, who suffered a separated shoulder in last week’s quarterfinal victory over Eisenhower, gutted it out and had the Lions within two points of Carroll in the third quarter, 19-17.
But Sullivan was intercepted four times in the game – double his season total coming in. Two of the Golden Eagles’ picks were by junior defensive back Cale Blasi. Another one by Luke Evans set up the TD pass to Holthusen, which came on Carroll’s first play of the drive.
Howell said he was unaware whether Sullivan would play.
“We knew his shoulder was hurt,” Howell said. “I hadn’t talked to him all week, but we went into the game (preparing for) both of their quarterbacks, and so either way, I think our defense was ready for them.”
Fittingly, it was his third interception that sealed the victory. Senior Zachery Roth, who also runs Carroll’s “Diesel” package on offense, picked off Sullivan at the Goddard 45 and returned it 25 yards to the Lions 20. A horsecollar penalty took the ball to the 10, and Howell scored his second running touchdown of the game two plays later.
“I credit my line on that one,” Howell said. “Both teams came out and competed so hard (Friday night). It was a dogfight until the end.”
On Goddard’s ensuing drive, Blasi picked off his second pass of the night, and the Golden Eagles could run out the clock and begin thinking about next week’s title game at Carnie Smith Stadium in Pittsburg.
“We knew it was going to be a very difficult game,” Trail said. “These guys just persevered, kept working, kept trying to figure something out, and we finally figured out that we could run a little bit and took advantage of it.”
Trail also praised his defensive unit.
“Just a tremendous defensive effort,” he said.
He said he anticipated Sullivan playing.
“He’s a tough young man,” Trail said. “And I knew he was going to sacrifice for his teammates for an opportunity at a state championship.
Goddard coach Scott Vang said he was proud of Sullivan.
“He just played his tail off,” Vang said. “We just couldn’t ever find a way to get into a groove on offense, and a couple of penalties when we were rolling hurt us, too.”
Even with that, nothing was assured for Carroll until very late, Vang said.
“I think the game was in doubt until the last couple minutes of the game,” he said. “When we needed to make a play, we just couldn’t make it.”
Carroll 7 6 6 10 – 29
Goddard 3 7 0 7 – 17
BC – Holthusen 45 pass from Howell (Steven kick)
G – FG Cole 35
G – True 53 pass from Beason (Cole kick)
C – Howell 16 run (kick blocked)
C – Baalmann 4 pass from Howell (kick failed)
G – Sullivan 13 run (Cole kick)
C – FG Steven 22
C – Howell 7 run (Steven kick)
RUSHING – Carroll: Howell 22-172, J. Nichols 13-32, Roth 5-14. Goddard: Bannister 15-42, Sullivan 11-15.
PASSING – Carroll: Howell 9-28-0-84. Goddard: Sullivan 12-26-4-172; Beason 1-1-0-53.
RECEIVING – Carroll: Baalmann 3-17, Holthusen 2-50, Helten 2-17, J. Nichols 2-0. Goddard: True 4-111, Beason 3-84, Mitchell 3-18, Bannister 3-12.