RL Miller’s pick-six in the final minutes of Sacred Heart Cathedral’s win over the Riordan Crusaders wasn’t needed to affect the outcome of Saturday’s game, but it was necessary all the same.
The 43-yard interception return was the cherry on top of the Fightin’ Irish’s 38-20 victory, which put the Stanfel Cup back in green and white possession and completed SHC’s sweep of its crosstown rivals. The Fightin’ Irish shut St. Ignatius out in the Bruce-Mahoney Game two weeks earlier.
“We run the city,” Miller proudly said. “It shows all our hard work’s paying off.”
With the Fightin’ Irish coaching staff wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the words “Take Over,” Sacred Heart Cathedral (6-3, 4-2 West Catholic Athletic League) did just that, though Riordan (3-6, 1-5) certainly gave the visitors a scare in the second half.
The Crusaders recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half as Matteo Matteucci popped a ball out for Charles Chu to recover, and freshman Michael Mitchell Jr. connected with Zachary Jones on a 6-yard touchdown pass six plays later to cut the lead to 17-13. Riordan got the ball back less than three minutes later with a chance to take the lead after Davion Smith and Mikatoa Scanlan combined to stuff the Irish on fourth down, but a holding penalty on first down quickly led to a three-and-out.
“We’d start getting into a rhythm, and then we’d do something that put us into a really bad down and distance,” Riordan head coach Adhir Ravipati said after his team was flagged eight times for 60 yards. “Guys are trying really hard to get a block and get called for a hold. I’m not gonna fault our kids. They played really hard today, and they left it all on the field.”
Facing third-and-9 at the Riordan 28 three minutes later, Aidan McGrath found Miller over the middle to restore a two-score lead, almost a carbon copy of the play that gave the Irish the lead for good eight days earlier against Bellarmine.
Three plays later, it was Jerry Mixon Jr.’s turn to shine. The Oregon commit stripped a Crusader rusher, and lineman Jordan Solofa-Fatu ended up with the ball at the bottom of the pile to secure the turnover for SHC. Mixon’s 12-yard touchdown run with 2:42 left extended the lead to 18, and Miller cashed in with his pick-six one play later, his fifth defensive touchdown of the year.
“They’re game changers,” Ravipati said of Mixon and Miller. “There’s a reason they’re Power 5 football players.”
JahKeenan Williams-Choa’s 63-yard touchdown run concluded the day’s scoring.
Riordan started the day off with a bang following Senior Day ceremonies as Zachary Jones beat his defender for a 60-yard catch and run on the first play from scrimmage, but he tripped inside the 10-yard line. The Crusaders ultimately settled for a 32-yard Finnbarr Harrington field goal, and couldn’t extend that lead after a Jones interception, quickly going three-and-out.
Jackson Irons had four catches for 53 yards for the Irish, with a 20-yard reception setting up his team’s first touchdown, a 1-yard Mixon run out of the wildcat formation. Mixon ran eight times for 27 yards, completed a five-yard pass and caught three passes for 63 yards.
“It’s fun having control,” Mixon said of moonlighting at quarterback. “I feel like I can’t get sacked, so I can roam around the pocket and make my receivers do the scramble drill.”
Kendric Sanders, who ran 21 times for 80 yards, was the recipient of Mixon’s pass, but was tackled short of the goal line, setting up Brian Coyle’s 24-yard field goal to give SHC a 17-6 lead. A 17-yard catch-and-run by Mixon and a 29-yard pass from McGrath to Miller put the visitors in position to expand the lead before halftime, but Jones’ second interception kept the Crusaders within striking distance.
Harrington’s 38-yard field goal into the wind cut the Irish lead to 7-6 before Miller’s first touchdown of the day, a 22-yard run on a reverse after Mixon had initially handed off to Silas Bernardino. Miller had two catches for 57 yards and two runs for 33 yards.
“I’m blessed to have those guys,” head coach Antoine Evans said of Mixon and Miller. “You just put them in position to be successful and let them go.”
McGrath completed 13 of his 23 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, connecting with five different targets. Mitchell went 9-for-21 for 120 yards, with Tyrone Jackson catching four passes for 35 yards. Jackson’s 57-yard kick return late in the first quarter set up Harrington’s second field goal, and he could have taken it to the house if not for a last-ditch effort by Coyle to bring him down.
“That was a winnable football game,” Ravipati said. “This is a hard loss. This one matters to the school.”
With the Bruce-Mahoney and Stanfel Cup now in the rearview mirror, Sacred Heart Cathedral will head to Serra (9-0, 6-0) next Saturday with hopes of spoiling the Padres’ perfect season. Serra already secured no worse than a share of the league championship with last night's 21-7 win over St. Ignatius.
The loss was the fifth in a row for the Crusaders, yet they can still qualify for the postseason if they win at St. Ignatius (3-6, 2-4) next Friday in what will effectively serve as a play-in game for the WCAL’s sixth and final spot.
“We still have a chance to get in the playoffs,” Ravipati said. “This game with SI, winner gets in, loser’s out.”