Any hopes Sacred Heart Cathedral had of upsetting the Serra Padres on Saturday afternoon vanished in a seven-minute span.
Serra (10-0, 7-0 West Catholic Athletic League) scored three times in rapid succession in the second quarter, twice on plays that exceeded 40 yards, and cruised to a 43-7 victory over the Fightin’ Irish.
The top-ranked team in the Bay Area by every publication, Serra completed its first 10-0 regular season in program history, something not even Lynn Swann's or Tom Brady’s teams could do. The Padres also clinched the outright WCAL title, having already locked up a share of the crown a week earlier at St. Ignatius.
As stunning as it was to see the Padres rip off big play after big play against an SHC defense that had allowed hardly any throughout its first nine games, Serra’s postgame celebration, or lack thereof, was just as surprising.
“Last week, we didn’t really celebrate either,” Serra head coach Patrick Walsh said. “It really says something about our players and their journey together. They have work to do, and they never really get too high or get too low.”
There was no Gatorade bath or mosh pit on the sidelines, and the photos that players took with their families following the game didn’t exceed any other team’s usual Senior Day festivities.
“It’s a reflection of our senior leadership. Guys are very even-keeled, very humble people,” Walsh went on to say. “(Alexander) Atkins, (Joey) Villaroman, Ryan Moeckel, Seamus Gilmartin and Sam Goligoski do a very good job of keeping us centered.”
All five of Walsh’s aforementioned captains factored into the lopsided victory. Atkins spearheaded a secondary that limited RL Miller to just two catches, Goligoski set the tone with an early sack and Moeckel was instrumental in guiding an offensive line that gave Maealiuaki Smith plenty of time to throw. Gilmartin and Villaroman each caught touchdowns.
What looked like it would be a low-scoring game on paper ended up being nothing of the sort, largely thanks to that stretch in the second quarter. Sacred Heart Cathedral (6-4, 4-3) had settled in after allowing a touchdown on Serra’s first offensive play, but the dam broke early in the second.
“Our guys weren’t ready for the moment,” head coach Antoine Evans said. “They didn’t do anything different that we hadn’t seen on film, but we made boneheaded mistakes. When you go against the No. 1 team, they’re gonna capitalize on that.”
Jaden Green’s 44-yard touchdown put the host Padres up 12-0, and Timo Poloka’s sack capped off a three-and-out. Jayden Weber then picked up 20 yards on a screen, setting up Jabari Mann’s 1-yard touchdown run to give Serra a three-score advantage with 4:49 left in the second quarter.
It only got worse for SHC from there. Needing to inject life into an offense that had gained just 40 yards up to that point, the Irish dialed up a trick play, but Green intercepted Jerry Mixon Jr.’s halfback pass. Weber took a screen pass 42 yards three plays later to make it 26-0, and his 30-yard reception in the final moments of the first half put the Padres in range for a 39-yard Dylan Joudieh field goal to extend the lead to 29-0.
Only one team, Mitty, had scored more than 30 points against the Fightin’ Irish all season before Serra erupted on Saturday.
“We had a plan to run away from Mixon and Miller,” Green said. “We knew if we could keep them quiet, we’d have a big game.”
Any life that lineman Benny Hatch injected into the SHC sideline early in the third quarter with his first career interception quickly went away when the Padres forced their second turnover of the day on Kyon Loud’s strip sack and Collin Tahitua’s fumble recovery. Villaroman then hauled in a 28-yard pass with a leaping grab in double coverage after a Jabari Ryan sack had put Serra in a third-and-24, and Gilmartin showed off both his speed and skilled hands on a 41-yard catch-and-run that put the home side up 36 and ensured the Padres would reach a running clock for the third time this season. Villaroman also caught a 3-yard touchdown with 43 seconds left in the third quarter.
Positives were few and far between for the Fightin’ Irish. Perhaps the biggest win of the day for SHC came when McGrath was able to leave under his own power after a tackle in the fourth quarter that initially looked like it could have led to a serious injury. He did sit the remainder of the fourth quarter, but seems to have avoided significant damage.
The Irish briefly thought they had taken the lead in the first quarter. Down 6-0 after Miller had stopped Serra’s two-point try, Isaiah Keishk’s 30-yard catch-and-run on third-and-10 took the visitors to midfield, and McGrath found Keishk again to convert a fourth-and-2. Miller then made one of his better grabs in a season that’s been full of highlight-reel plays, bobbling and catching a ball in double coverage and fighting his way into the end zone, but a holding flag back at the line of scrimmage negated the score — and no referee told the SHC coaching staff which player had committed the penalty.
Miller did force a fumble in the fourth quarter, and Ryan returned it 27 yards to set up the lone SHC touchdown of the afternoon. With McGrath on the sidelines, Mixon took over at quarterback and hit Miller for a 20-yard touchdown. Brian Coyle’s extra point meant the Padres still have yet to post a shutout in what’s been an otherwise incredible season. Serra allowed exactly seven points in all seven WCAL games.
When he actually did have time to throw, McGrath completed seven of his 12 passes for 60 yards. While Miller and Mixon faced tight coverage, Keishk caught four passes for 45 yards.
SHC finished the day with just 17 rushing yards on 21 attempts. Kendric Sanders ran 11 times for the hardest-earned 19 yards of his life, including a 6-yard pickup in the second quarter where he was initially hit three yards behind the line of scrimmage.
After Goligoski tackled both Sanders and McGrath behind the line of scrimmage on SHC’s first possession, Serra got creative to immediately score. Michael Perazzo lined up at running back, took a toss from Smith and threw it to Grant McGovern, who raced into the end zone for a 60-yard score.
It was McGovern’s lone catch of the day, a testament to the Padres’ depth. Gilmartin had three catches for 74 yards and Villaroman caught four passes for 48. Weber was Serra’s top receiver, with five catches for 103 yards.
With Mann and Danny Niu mainly focused on defense, Joseph Latu ran eight times for 43 yards. Malachi Gastrock, celebrating his birthday, picked up 53 yards on 10 second-half carries.
Serra is the top seed in the Central Coast Section (CCS) Division I Playoffs, and will host No. 8 Palma (8-2) on Saturday. SHC is seeded seventh and will travel to No. 2 St. Francis (7-3) on Friday night. The Irish lost 24-17 at Ron Calcagno Stadium in an Oct. 7 game that was marred by penalties.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]