Sacred Heart Cathedral’s offense has been feast or famine across the first half of the 2022 season.
On Saturday night, the Fightin’ Irish were feasting.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (3-2, 1-1 West Catholic Athletic League) scored a season-high 36 points, including three touchdowns of 60 yards or more, in a 36-20 win over Valley Christian (1-4, 0-2), spoiling the Warriors’ homecoming night and marking SHC’s first victory over Valley since 2008.
“Aidan McGrath did a great job tonight, spreading the ball out to all our receivers,” head coach Antoine Evans said. “We knew he had it. We just needed him to believe in himself and believe in his abilities.”
McGrath, who spent most of last week’s loss to Mitty on the bench, completed 12 of 18 passes for 254 yards. The Irish led just 21-20 early in the fourth quarter after Uchenna Eke’s third rushing touchdown of the night, but McGrath fired a deep pass to Jerry Mixon Jr. along the left sideline on the first play of the ensuing drive for a 60-yard touchdown.
Most two-way linebackers take their offensive reps at tight end or running back, but Mixon, a 3-star Oregon commit, showed off his ability on the outside as well.
“A lot of linebackers can’t move like me,” Mixon said.
McGrath hit Mikey Calonico on a two-point conversion to put SHC up by two scores.
“I’ve got a lot of smart assistants,” Evans said of the decision to go for two. “Coach (Pat) Holmes reminded me to go for two.”
While the Irish embraced modern strategies to seal the win, host Valley Christian played a much more traditional style. It worked for the better part of three quarters, but a decision to punt on fourth-and-11 at the SHC 48 with 7:40 to go backfired almost immediately. Mixon returned the punt 21 yards, and on third-and-8, RL Miller took a short McGrath path, cut from the left side of the field to the right sideline and raced untouched for a 61-yard touchdown to ice the game.
“The environment was lit,” said Miller, who had eight catches for 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Jabari Ryan stuffed an Isaiah Ramirez run on fourth-and-1 to start the second half, and Miller extended the SHC lead to 21-7 with back-to-back receptions. A 10-yard catch helped atone for a delay of game penalty, and miscommunication in the Warrior secondary left him wide open for an 18-yard score.
The Warriors responded on their first play of the following drive as Eke ran for a 60-yard score. He finished the night with 206 yards on 20 carries.
The teams traded turnovers over the remainder of the third quarter. Sophomore Marcel Leggett Jr. forced a fumble that Isaac Santiago recovered on the second play of the next SHC drive, but Miller responded by picking off a deep pass on fourth-and-7 with 3:02 left in the third quarter. A holding penalty wiped out what would have been a 92-yard return for a touchdown.
Lovante Metcalfe’s strip of Kendric Sanders and fumble recovery two plays later gave the ball back to the Warriors, and Eke’s 3-yard touchdown run with 11:07 remaining had the hosts in position to tie the game, but a botched hold prevented them from attempting the game-tying extra point. 16 seconds later, Mixon was in the end zone and Calonico’s reception on the conversion put the Irish up by two scores.
Sanders ran 10 times for 109 yards as the visiting Irish averaged nearly 6.6 yards per carry. His 67-yard touchdown, aided by Benny Hatch’s fierce downfield blocking, put SHC up 14-7 just moments after Eke had tied the game on a 75-yard score less than a minute into the second quarter. Eke had slowed up near the goal line, but he was ruled to have broken the plane before Mixon popped the ball out.
“That was definitely a fumble,” Mixon said.
The Irish were deprived of another turnover earlier in the first half when Marcus Kunene was ruled out of bounds on a potential interception near midfield. Valley Christian, still missing sophomore quarterback Jonathan Craft to a broken ankle, completed just two of eight attempted passes for 36 yards. Running the ball so much meant the Warriors hardly tested Miller, but the Arizona State commit, who transitioned from cornerback to linebacker following his junior year, wasn’t complaining.
“I love hitting,” Miller said of playing such a run-heavy opponent.
Another physical foe looms next Friday as SHC makes the trip to St. Francis (2-3, 1-1). Like Valley Christian, the Lancers will have a large home crowd at their backs. The Irish last beat the Lancers in 2008, which also marked their most recent win over Valley Christian before Saturday night.
“I’m so excited I can barely talk right now,” Evans said. “It’s huge for the program, it’s huge for our city, it’s huge for our community. All week at practice, we preached having fun and winning together as a group.”
SHC had lost 12 straight to Valley Christian. In 2019, the Warriors hosted the Irish on homecoming night and dealt them a 61-0 beatdown. Last year at Kezar Stadium, Valley Christian won 27-21 thanks to an incredible 67-yard touchdown by Jurrion Dickey in the final minutes. Dickey, a 5-star Oregon commit, has since transferred to Menlo-Atherton.
“I have our old coach (Barry McLaughlin) for Biology,” Hatch said. “He told me I had to come out here and beat ‘em.”
2016 SHC graduate Keith Ismael, now a member of the San Francisco 49ers practice squad, had never beaten the Warriors. He was on the sidelines for the game alongside current 49er Talanoa Hufanga, who also attended Serra’s win over Mitty the night before. Ismael spoke to the team following the landmark win.
Valley Christian visits St. Ignatius (1-4, 0-2) next Friday. The Wildcats have lost nine straight meetings, including a playoff game in 2019.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]