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Serra runs to section title, earns top Northern California slot

Serra running back Jaden Green (3) runs for a 21-yard gain on a screen pass during the third quarter of the Padres' 41-14 win over Mitty in the Central Coast Section Division I Football Championship in San Jose on Nov. 25, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Despite all of the complicated and innovative ways the Serra Padres have employed to beat teams, it was an old method that did the trick on Friday night.

A quick blast from the past with the old double wing offense put Danny Niu in position for a go-ahead 61-yard touchdown run, providing the impetus for the Padres to finally pull away from the Mitty Monarchs as they went on to a 41-14 win in the Central Coast Section (CCS) Division I Championship Game.

“It’s like a warm security blanket for us,” head coach Patrick Walsh said of the old, bruising formation.

Since the restructuring of the format that made the Division I game the section’s highest, Serra (13-0) has won all three titles. On Sunday, the Padres will be named as the top team in Northern California for the second straight year and receive their bid to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Open Division Championship Game, to be played in Orange County in two weeks against Southern California champion St. John Bosco.

Sixth-seeded Mitty (9-4), winner of back-to-back overtime games, gave the Padres all they could handle before Niu’s thunderous run with 4:29 left in the third quarter. The junior, being recruited to play as a linebacker in college, showed off his offensive skillset by hitting the hole and breaking a tackle before outracing his competition over the final 50 yards.

Serra head coach Patrick Walsh patrols the sideline during the first quarter of the Padres' 41-14 win over Mitty in the Central Coast Section Division I Football Championship in San Jose on Nov. 25, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

“That run by Danny Niu will go down in history in Padre football,” Walsh said.

A rare missed extra point by Dylan Joudieh, his first miss of the entire season, left the door open for just a moment as the kind of play that the Monarchs have taken advantage of throughout their miracle run, but Serra’s defense quickly and authoritatively slammed the door shut with a three-and-out, with Sam Goligoski tackling AJ Cenizal for a loss on first down. Jaden Green then gained 45 yards on a toss play, setting up Joseph Latu for a 16-yard run to get the Padres into the red zone and a 5-yard score with 1:14 left in the quarter.

Even then, the Monarchs still had a counterpunch left in them. Wills Towers, who completed 23 of 41 passes for 325 yards despite facing heavy pressure from Serra’s pass rush, found Charlie Butler for a 65-yard gain, setting up Danny Scudero’s 3-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation on the following play to cut the lead to 20-14.

“They had an unbelievable season,” Walsh said of Mitty. “Absolutely great coaching, coming from 1-9 to that. They threw some uppercuts.”

Scudero, one of the candidates to be named West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) Player of the Year, turned in an MVP-worth performance in defeat. He caught six passes for 99 yards and gained another 24 on five rushing attempts. His 7-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal with a second left in the second quarter sent the Monarchs into halftime tied at 7.

“They’re really good receivers,” Serra linebacker Jabari Mann said of his competition.

Ben Kim had eight receptions for 96 yards and Butler had four catches for 106, but the Monarchs were held to minus-9 rushing yards.

Mitty even got a stop to open the third quarter, with Dreyton Johnson’s tackle behind the line of scrimmage on first down putting the Padres in a hole they couldn’t recover from, then drove into Serra territory on a 15-yard Towers completion to Kim, but ultimately turned the ball over on downs. A hold took the Monarchs back to Serra’s 45, and Mann’s sack on third down forced a punt. One play later, Niu was in the end zone.

Serra cornerback Teddy Chung (12) returns an interception during the fourth quarter of the Padres' 41-14 win over the Mitty Monarchs in the Central Coast Section Division I Football Championship in San Jose on Nov. 25, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

The Padres finally pulled away in the fourth quarter. Green took a screen pass 21 yards late in the third, and Seamus Gilmartin’s 34-yard reception on the opening play of the final period set Mann, the quarterback in the double wing “Raider” formation, up for a 1-yard score. From there, the fourth quarter became an onslaught, with Teddy Chung’s interception and 20-yard runback leading to a 9-yard Green touchdown run on a sweep.

With no option but to go for fourth-and-6 from their own 35, the Monarchs turned the ball over again with 8:02 left as Mann hit Towers in the backfield and Green recovered what was ultimately ruled a fumble as Towers tried to get rid of the ball amidst contact. Quarterback Maealiuaki Smith, who had struggled to pass for much of the night, managed to keep his feet moving for a 15-yard gain when he looked like he was going to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, and Latu capped off his 12-carry, 100-yard performance with his second touchdown of the night, a two-yard score with 6:28 left. In all, the Padres scored 21 points in five minutes and 19 seconds to quash any possibility of a Mitty upset.

With early-season wins over Folsom and De La Salle bolstering their resume, the Padres are a lock for a second consecutive California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Open Division Championship appearance. In 2021, they were soundly beaten by Mater Dei, and while they’ll be underdogs this year again when they face St. John Bosco, it looks like less of a dramatic mismatch on paper. Despite never facing off head-to-head, the Padres and Braves, who advanced by defeating Mater Dei at the Rose Bowl, have some familiarity: Bosco offensive coordinator Steven Lo previously held the same position at Serra.