Jerry Mixon Jr.’s never been short on confidence.
The Oregon commit has a college scholarship to play linebacker, and he also starts at running back for Sacred Heart Cathedral, but the Fightin’ Irish beat Sacred Heart Prep 13-12 in Friday night’s season opener because Mixon had the audacity to call his own number as a passer.
On fourth-and-18, Mixon took a lateral from quarterback Aidan McGrath and threw to his cousin, Arizona State commit RL Miller, for a go-ahead 47-yard touchdown with 8:17 left that served as the decisive score.
“I told coach, ‘let me get the ball,’ he believed in me, and I knew I was gonna make the throw,” Mixon said.
Putting the ball in the hands of his star players made Antoine Evans a winner in his head coaching debut. He was promoted from defensive coordinator after Barry McLaughlin stepped down in February, and his opening act under the thick fog at Kezar Stadium was a success as the Fightin’ Irish avenged last year’s defeat to the Gators.
“Honestly, the defense wasn’t playing so well and we needed a big play to shift the momentum,” Evans said. “We saw the coverage was coming up hard so we felt like they were going to bite on the pass and (Miller) was open.”
A crucial delay of game penalty forced Sacred Heart Prep (0-1) to punt the ball back to the Irish with just over four minutes remaining, and one last gutsy call from Evans sealed the game. Facing fourth-and-11 at the Gator 46 with two minutes left, Evans went for the jugular. Instead of punting to try to pin SHP deep with the Gators out of timeouts, he kept the Irish offense on the field. His confidence in offensive coordinator Pat Holmes paid off as McGrath found Mikey Calonico for a 14-yard completion, effectively ending the game.
“Coach Holmes felt he had a play we could get, and I believe in my coaches, so we went for it,” Evans explained.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (1-0) faced a 9-0 deficit after a 27-yard Sean Tinsley field goal and 15-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Taylor to Liam O’Kelly, but the hosts got on the board before halftime, capitalizing on a roughing the passer penalty on fourth down to set up a 12-yard McGrath touchdown pass to Miller. SHP went into the break with a 12-7 lead after Tinsley’s 38-yarder, and Mixon’s pass served as the only score of the second half.
“The ball was in the air for a minute,” Miller said of Mixon’s pass. “I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t really think I was gonna catch it, but I knew my cousin was going to get me the ball.”
The pass wasn’t Mixon’s only big play of the second half; his sack to end the third quarter snapped the Irish out of a lull and forced an SHP punt.
What was certainly a memorable win for the Irish was, admittedly, far from perfect. Flags littered the field throughout the night, and SHP running back Andrew Latu broke the 100-yard mark against the Irish defense.
“We need to be more physical on defense, stop the run better,” said Evans, who also serves as the defensive line coach.. “We had a lot of bad mistakes, and we just gotta fix those things in practice and be more disciplined.”
The Irish will travel to Salinas next Friday for a tilt with Palma at Rabobank Stadium. The Chieftains fell 29-7 at Mitty in their season opener.
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