With his entire family, both immediate and extended, on hand at Kezar Stadium for Senior Night, RL Miller put on a show for the ages.
The Arizona State commit caught the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter and registered two scores on defense, returning both an interception and a fumble for touchdowns, as the Sacred Heart Cathedral Fightin’ Irish beat the Bellarmine Bells 30-17.
“He’s just big-time,” head coach Antoine Evans said. “That’s why he’s a D1 commit. He makes big plays that change the game.”
The fumble recovery was undoubtedly the most impressive of those plays. Trailing 22-17 after Miller’s receiving touchdown, the Bells were on the third play of their drive when they tried to run an option play to the right side, only for Miller to snatch the ball out of mid-air and take it untouched for a 34-yard score with 5:19 left in the third quarter.
“My job was to just get the running back out, but (the quarterback) pitched it, and I just went to get the ball,” Miller said.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (5-3, 3-2 West Catholic Athletic League) never scored again after holder Mykel Patton passed to Mikey Calonico for a trick two-point conversion, but fought off the shorthanded Bells’ remaining efforts to claw back into the game. Kendric Sanders intercepted a fake punt and Bellarmine (3-5, 2-3) turned it over twice on downs in the fourth quarter.
“They’ve got so many injuries, and the way they came out and played on the road was just amazing,” Evans said of the Bells. “Kudos to them, man.”
The Bells’ injury list included not only star running back Ben Pfaff, but also his backup, Riley Paran, as well as quarterback Parker Threatt, kicker John Raney and wide receiver Colin Lakkaraju, among others. Still, Bellarmine scored on the opening drive on a 1-yard Jake Hanson run after a 33-yard reception by tight end Joe Fuqua, and led 10-2 after Connor Tripp’s 37-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.
Even after turning the ball over twice, the Fightin’ Irish still managed to get into halftime with a 15-10 lead. Sanders broke off a 62-yard touchdown run, and when the Bells went for fourth-and-3 at the Irish 48, Miller jumped in the way of a screen pass over the middle for a 46-yard pick-six.
“We were just thinking, if we were still in the game and we were playing this bad, we should for sure win this,” safety Nick Feliciano said. “We had the confidence. We just needed to execute.”
Ben Coulter’s interception and 23-yard return on the third play of the third quarter put Bellarmine in position to retake the lead on Brandon Broch’s 5-yard run. Runs of 41 and 29 yards by Sanders took the Irish into the red zone, and Aidan McGrath hit Miller over the middle for a 20-yard score on third-and-11 for a 22-17 advantage.
“We just build his confidence every time,” Miller said of McGrath, who shook off three interceptions.
Bellarmine got stopped on downs at midfield early in the second quarter, only to get the ball back with even better field position thanks to Christian Farias’ interception and 34-yard return. SHC had a chance to go up by two scores before halftime when Jerry Mixon Jr. forced a Broch fumble that Benny Hatch scooped up, but Broch found instant redemption as he intercepted a pass that Noel Diaz deflected at the line on the very next play.
Jasaun Mabrey’s interception on the final play of the game gave the Irish their fourth and final takeaway. SHC also recorded a safety for the second straight week as Jay Murphy and Nick Feliciano teamed up to stop a Bellarmine rusher from getting out of the end zone after Murphy’s 51-yard punt pinned the visitors inside the 1.
“That was unreal,” Murphy said. “Back-to-back weeks. Who would have guessed?”
Feliciano delivered SHC’s biggest hit of the year early in the fourth quarter, clocking Bells receiver Fisher White on a pass over the middle to turn what would have been a 20-yard gain into an incompletion.
“I saw him running the seam and saw the free link,” Feliciano said.
White finished with four catches for 45 yards. Fuqua was Nate Escalada’s top target, with seven receptions for 99 yards. Escalada completed 18 of his 42 passes for 192 yards and gained another 44 on 10 rushes. Broch ran 12 times for 47 yards and added 26 receiving yards on four catches.
Sanders’ Game-Changing Run
The Irish had gained just six yards on their first eight rushing attempts before Sanders broke loose in the second quarter.
“Bellarmine was slanting the gap, giving the outside and crashing a lot,” Evans said. “Kendric saw the hole and busted outside.”
Sanders finished the night with 17 runs for 133 yards.
“Our whole line picked up a blitz, and after that, it was over,” he said.
Mixon Jr. complemented Sanders with six carries for 27 yards.
The Fightin’ Irish travel to Riordan (3-4, 1-3) next Saturday to compete for the Stanfel Cup. The Crusaders hold the trophy after a 48-21 romp last season.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]