High school football: Fontanilla, second-half defense leads Salesian past Aragon for NorCal 6-A title

RICHMOND — After a first half of offensive fireworks, host Salesian High played keep away in the second half and the result was a 36-28 win over Aragon  in the Northern California 6-A championship game.

The score was 30-28 at halftime in favor of Salesian, at which point coaches Chad Nightingale and Steve Sell (Aragon) had a friendly brief exchange where they wondered where both defenses went.

But it was the Pride that had the lone score of the second half on a 6-yard, fourth-and-goal swing pass from Nicholas Fontanilla to Max Lacasse, and Salesian also ground out nearly 11 minutes on an 18-play, 74-drive that ate up most of the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t until Walter Lloyd intercepted a Dylan Daniel pass in the final minute that Salesian could breathe easy and go into victory formation.

“The first half was like a track meet and the second half was a 6-0 game,” Nightingale said. “Hats off to Aragon. They responded in the first half when we scored and they were able to get some big plays. They were well-prepared, didn’t talk any trash. They did a great job.”

Fontanilla’s game-deciding touchdown pass was his fourth of the game. In completing 16 of 23 passes for 145 yards, he also had scoring throws of 3 and 5 yards to Andre Prince and a 22-yard pass to Milo Jenkins.

Devin Quinn also scored on runs of 9 and 17 yards run as the Pride scored six touchdowns and had zero points on conversions (five failed two-point attempts and a blocked kick).

Aragon opened the scoring with an 11-yard run from Ivan Nisa, touchdown passes of 59- and 65-yards from Daniel to Alan Tanielu and a 59-yard touchdown sprint from Solomone Hokafonu. Aragon, which converted two point-after attempts, missed one and had a two-point conversion, also missed on a scoring opportunity as the half ran out deep in Salesian territory.

Salesian (10-2) will play for a state title next Saturday against either El Camino Real-Woodland Hills or Arlington-Riverside. Aragon ends its season at 9-5 after winning its first Central Coast Section title in 27 years.

Besides his four touchdown passes, Fontanilla had 17 carries for 98 yards on the ground, including several quarterback sneaks for assorted gains of 5, 4 and 3 yards where the Salesian offensive line had Aragon on its heels. Quinn added 108 yards on 13 carries for the Pride, which finished with 35 carries for 263 yards and had 408 yards of total offense.

“I knew it was going to be a long game,” Fontanilla said. “Coach told us every game gets harder. It was a great team that we played against. There’s a lot going through my head right now, but I know I wanted more. I wanted to go to state.”

Sell hoped the disappointment of the loss wouldn’t take the shine off a special season.

“Last week was a shared win and this was a shared loss,” Sell said. “It was sprinkled throughout the whole team. And we lost to a good team. They’re really good. They’re fast, they’re physical, they’re well-coached. Sometimes that happens.”

Quinn completed 10 of 22 passes for 209 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and Aragon had 338 yards of total offense.

In a back and forth first half, it was Aragon that struck first on Nisa’s 11-yard run after the Dons recovered a Salesian fumble.

Not long afterward, the Pride got its first touchdown when Jenkins scored on the backpedal from 22 yards on a pass from Fontanilla even as an Aragon defender was faceguarding and never looked for the ball.

Tanielu broke wide open over the middle and was hit by Daniel for a 59-yard score, which was followed closely by Prince’s first touchdown pass from Fontanilla. The Pride scored again when Prince stepped in front of screen pass and returned it to the Aragon 9, and with Quinn converting the turnover into points on a 9-yard run.

Hokafonu exploded up the middle for a 59-yard run that had Aragon up 21-18, with Salesian countering on the second Fontanilla-to-Prince score from the 3.

Aragon got its last points late in the first half on a perfectly executed third-and-10 screen that went down the right sideline for 65 yards from Daniel to Tanielu.

Nightingale credited his offensive and defensive lines for restoring order after the wild first half.

Sell reflected on a season he never would have expected coming off a pandemic year where the Dons played six games starting last March and 14 more this season.

“They got to play a ton of football. At this time last year, it looked so grim,” Sell said. “It looked grim through January, and they get to play 20 games and bring home a section championship. It’s spectacular. Obviously we wanted to play another game, but I’m so happy for these kids.”


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Author: Jerry McDonald