By Jeremy Balan
It would be hard to argue there is a more valuable player in the Academic Athletic Association than Lowell High School senior Michael McCarthy, and his talents were displayed again on Friday night.
Along with handling punting and kicking duties, McCarthy ran for a game-high 86 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, caught a 53-yard touchdown pass and sealed the Cardinals’ 44-14 win over Washington at Kezar Stadium with a fourth-quarter interception.
McCarthy isn’t even a starter on defense, but came in as a backup safety late in the game and the interception just seemed to fit the senior’s do-everything reputation.
“He does a lot for us and we’re fortunate to have him,” said Lowell head coach Danny Chan. “It’s their senior year and they know they need to go out and take it.”
The last time Lowell (4-3, 3-1) won the annual Battle of the Birds rivalry game, McCarthy was a freshman on the sideline as a junior varsity player, but Washington had dominated the last two meetings, winning by scores of 41-20 and 23-8.
“My freshman year, my brother was on the varsity team and I remember watching from the sideline. It was so exciting,” McCarthy said of the Cardinals’ 29-20 win over Washington in 2009. “I moved up to varsity my sophomore year and we got beat pretty bad, then we got beat pretty bad again. We were hungry for a win, especially the seniors who got beat on the last couple of years.”
No Lowell rusher finished with more than 100 yards but nine different ball-carriers totaled 260 yards on 53 carries.
“That’s team,” Chan said of combined rushing effort, “I’m not a big stat guy. It’s all about the scoreboard. I could care less about the stats. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true.”
While the Cardinals’ double-wing attack ground out 173 rushing yards in the first half, Lowell quarterback Will Frankel provided some flash.
Frankel’s first strike came on McCarthy’s lone reception, when he rolled left and found his fellow senior wide open on a post route down the center of the field to give the Cardinals a 16-0 lead with 3:42 left in the first quarter. On his second, he threw a ball 40 yards in the air to find speedy senior wingback Paul Cho streaking behind the Washington secondary with only 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter to give the Cardinals a commanding 30-8 lead at the break.
Frankel finished with 106 yards and two touchdowns on 3-of-5 passing, but didn’t make a throw after the first half.
“We knew they were coming and we still bit on it,” Washington head coach Taylan Plasch said of the rarely-used Lowell passing game. “Guys got behind us and I think that’s the most I’ve seen Lowell throw this year.”
Lowell only outgained Washington 366-307, but the Eagles (2-6, 2-3) struggled to sustain drives and the Cardinals came up with stops in key situations. Lowell stopped the Eagles on fourth down four times and forced two Washington turnovers.
“We had maybe one or two long drives, but we just needed more big plays,” Plasch said. “We needed some of those big plays go into the end zone, not just to the 10- or 20-yard line.”
Washington had three plays of 48 yards or more. Two were on completions by quarterback Simon Ma, who threw for 188 yards on 11-of-25 passing, and the other was on a 65-yard touchdown run from senior running back Jerron Williams, who finished with a team-high 80 yards on just eight carries.
“[Washington is] not where they used to be, but they have the athletes and we were scared of those guys,” Chan said. “We knew what they have and you saw the big plays we gave up. There’s still plenty of improvements to make.”
The win all but mathematically clinches a playoff spot for the Cardinals, while entirely taking control out of Washington’s hands.
Due to a head-to-head loss to Balboa, the Eagles will likely need the Bucs to lose the rest of their remaining three games to hold on to the AAA’s fourth and final playoff spot. Balboa plays Mission on Saturday.
“Right now, we’re in fourth and Balboa now has two opportunities to come and take it away from us,” Plasch said. “We need them to lose and we need to beat Mission. That’s the only way and that’s a tough task.”
L: 6:43 – Paul Cho 24-yard run (William Kim run on conversion)
L: 3:42 – Michael McCarthy 53-yard pass from Will Frankel (Wen Liu run on conversion)
W: 3:29 – Jerron Williams 65-yard run (Williams run on conversion)
L: 7:20 – Kim 1-yard run (Liu run on conversion)
L: 0:14 – Cho 44-yard pass from Frankel (conversion failed)
L: 4:58 – Kim 4-yard run (McCarthy kick)
W: 4:26 – Ricky Lee Johnson 15-yard pass from Simon Ma (conversion failed)
L: 8:23 – McCarthy 3-yard run (McCarthy kick)