FLAGSTAFF — No matter what the Seton Catholic defense accomplished this season, the memory of last year’s semifinal loss to Blue Ridge shined brightest.
The Yellow Jackets ran for 440 yards in a 45-14 victory in the 2011 state semifinals, and heading into Friday’s Division IV championship game, many anticipated the Blue Ridge offensive line dominating again.
But the Sentinels waited more than a year for this return engagement, and they were ready to push back.
Seton Catholic’s defense held the vaunted Blue Ridge running game in check all game long and the offense exploded in the first quarter as the Sentinels captured the Division IV state title with a 28-7 win on Friday night at the NAU Walkup Skydome.
It is the first title for Seton (13-1) since 1997 and an improbable one after the juggernaut Yellow Jackets came in as a heavy favorite.
“After we got beat so bad, we were just intent on not letting that happen again,” defensive lineman Connor Kathe said. “And the only way to not let it happen is to go out and work. That seed of doubt was covered over by everything we put into this.”
Blue Ridge ran the ball 60 times for 316 yards but after a touchdown on its opening drive was held off the scoreboard. The Seton offense, meanwhile, caught fire for an early lead.
Bresnahan hit Daniel Garlid five times for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone as Seton went up 21-7 once Bresnahan scrambled for an 11-yard touchdown 10 seconds into the second quarter.
The Yellow Jackets went on a long drive to start the second half and got inside the Seton 10, but were stopped on the first three tries and a fake field goal run by Ben Watson was snuffed out at the 7 to end the possession.
Blue Ridge (13-1) made it interesting in the final minutes by driving inside the Seton red zone, but Eric Probst sacked quarterback Skyler Hill and forced a fumble, which Kathe returned 88 yards for a touchdown to clinch the championship.
It was the third fumble recovery for Seton and an exclamation mark on the defensive effort. Blue Ridge averaged 43.4 points per contest heading into the game.
“We’re not surprised by this at all,” Seton coach Rex Bowser said. “We’ve been doing this stuff most of the year. I think what happens is our offense gets so much publicity, people kind of ignore our defense.”
Bresnahan finished 12-of-21 for 218 yards and the two touchdowns. Garlid didn’t have another catch after the unbelievable first quarter, but the performance early on was plenty.
Star wide receiver Matt Haggerty was held to only two catches for five yards but was happy to watch Garlid excel against single coverage.
“There’s just too many weapons on our team,” Haggerty said.
Bresnahan had an excellent junior season and was entrenched as the starter this year, but broke his thumb in the season’s third game. David Gesicki played well in his absence, and the two platooned under center up until the title game.
Bresnahan threw all but one pass in this one and was outstanding, and he said returning from the injury to do it made it that much sweeter.
“It made me so hungry,” Bresnahan said. “I could not wait to get back. It’s a long season which drags on, and I just came back fired up and ready.”
So were his teammates.
Seton Catholic 28, Blue Ridge 7
Seton - 14 7 0 7 -- 28
Blue Ridge - 7 0 0 0 -- 7
First downs: S 20; BR 9
Rushes-Yards: S 19-20; BR 60-316
Passing yards: S 22; BR 54
Comp-Att-Int: S 13-22-1; BR 6-14-0
Fumbles-Lost: S 1-1; BR 5-3
Penalties-Yards: S 5-20; BR 8-60
S — Garlid 21 pass from Bresnahan, Garlid kick
BR — Hill 1 run, McBride kick
S — Garlid 46 pass from Bresnahan, Garlid kick
S — Bresnahan 11 run, Garlid kick
S — Kathe 88 fumble recovery, Garlid kick