It took more than 10 quarters of football, but the Sacred Heart Cathedral rushing attack finally started clicking on Friday night.
The Fightin’ Irish ran for just 68 yards across their first two games, but they exceeded that total across the span of just 12 offensive plays in the third quarter of Friday night’s 35-7 win over Burlingame at Kezar Stadium.
“Our coach set a standard in the locker room, 200 or more rushing yards today,” Jerry Mixon Jr. said. “Actually, we got over 300.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral (2-1) led 14-0 at halftime without an offensive touchdown, scoring off a blocked punt and an interception. The ground game finally broke through with a three-play, 55-yard drive midway through the quarter. Mixon ran for 18 yards, Kendric Sanders picked up 32 on the next play and sophomore quarterback Mykel Patton, part of a two-QB rotation with Aidan McGrath, scored on a 5-yard run.
“Everything just started to hit,” Sanders said. “Bomb after bomb after bomb.”
Mixon finished with a team-high 12 rushes for 142 yards, finding the end zone to make it 28-0 with 4:02 left in the quarter after a bad snap on a punt set the Irish up at Burlingame’s 7. Sanders gained 127 yards on just six carries, breaking free for a 71-yard score in the fourth quarter to provide the final margin.
“We finished and we were physical,” head coach Antoine Evans said. “We finally came out and executed our gameplan.”
Moving the ball through the air was the only pathway to offensive success for the Irish in their win over Sacred Heart Prep and loss to Palma, but Patton and Aidan McGrath combined to throw just 10 times on Friday night.
“We were throwing the ball too much and trying to force it to our guys,” Evans said. “We had to start running the ball and let the defense come up because everybody was playing off on us.”
The modified offense hardly saw the field in the first half. The defense forced a three-and-out to start the game, and a bad snap on the ensuing Burlingame punt allowed Jay Murphy to get into the backfield and block the kick. Zaheer Young picked the loose ball up just shy of the goal line and ran it in for the game’s opening score. The SHC offense didn’t see the field until there was 1:24 remaining in the first quarter as the Panthers controlled the clock over a 13-play drive but failed to score as Mixon sacked Liam Friedman on fourth down in the red zone, the first of two sacks for the Oregon linebacker commit on the evening.
“They had a simple offense so our coach made the defense super easy for us,” Mixon said. “When they came out in the double back we were in 33, and when they came out in wing-T we were in 22.”
In all, the Irish ran just three offensive plays in the first quarter, fumbling a handoff on the third play that Panther linebacker Ethan Lancaster recovered. Undeterred by his fumble, Arizona State commit RL Miller intercepted a tipped pass on the opening play of the second quarter and returned it for a 34-yard touchdown.
Ball security issues plagued SHC until the middle of the third quarter. A bad snap on fourth down killed the first substantial Irish drive midway through the second quarter, and Mixon lost a fumble while fighting for extra yards on the fifth play of the third quarter. Luke Philipos recovered the fumble for Burlingame (2-1). The Panthers also got a red zone stop to close the first half as Dylan Kall knocked down a McGrath pass on fourth-and-goal from the 4.
“We knew at halftime that we could run the ball and score a little more in the second half,” Evans said.
One last bad snap on the opening play of the fourth quarter, followed by a holding penalty and two negative plays, took the Irish out of field goal range and necessitated a punt on a rare fourth-and-41 situation, and the visiting Panthers broke the shutout on Sam Felton’s 37-yard dash up the sideline with 5:49 left. Sanders’ 71-yard score on the very first play of the next drive took the Irish over 300 rushing yards for the game, and Silas Bernardino’s 36-yard carry with under two minutes left brought the final total to 334, even with Miller carrying the ball just twice before leaving with an ankle injury. He expects to be healthy in time for SHC’s Sept. 23 West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) opener against Mitty (3-0), set for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Kezar Stadium.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]