Julio Lara/Daily Journal
Serra receiver Kava Cassidy fights for extra yardage during the Padres 21-14 loss to nationally ranked De La Salle of Concord.
Disappointment is the quickest way to misery.
And moments after its 2013 season opener, Serra head coach Patrick Walsh said it was OK to feel miserable.
The Padres were 6:07 away from pulling off one of the biggest upset-wins in the school’s football history Saturday afternoon. With half a quarter left to play, the Padres found themselves up 14-7 on national powerhouse De La Salle of Concord. At the time, it was a score no one expected — especially considering that Serra went into the contest missing more than half of its starting defense. And when it comes to facing the Spartans — a team that has six victories against the Padres in the Walsh era — you want to be at full force.
The Serra air and buzz was ripe with for an upset of monumental proportions.
But, in rather heartbreaking fashion, De La Salle found a way to score 14 unanswered points to close out the game and win 21-14. The last touchdown, scored with 3:18 seconds left in the contest, was aided by a Serra interception deep in Padres territory that gave the Spartans the football on the 10-yard line.
Two plays later, De La Salle completed their comeback — much to the deflation of the Serra faithful.
“It’s tougher when you quit,” Walsh said. “And we didn’t. So, no, it’s not tougher (to lose late in the game). It might hurt more. But when you look in the mirror, this afternoon, this evening, and the kids look at themselves, they can be proud of their effort — and in blowouts, I can’t always say that. Pain is good, pain is tolerable. I want to feel pain in losses. I don’t want to be cold … so, we’re not cold and timid souls today. We want to feel the pain and obviously it hurts.”
The pain comes from the effort Serra put forth only to come up for naught — especially on the defensive side of the football. Even with missing the likes of Notre Dame-bound Matt Dickerson, the Padres held the Spartans to just 282 yards of offense. Meanwhile, aided by a couple of big plays, Serra racked up 307.
Still, Serra will look back on Saturday’s loss and learn that, against a team the caliber of De La Salle, you have to play flawless football.
“That happens,” Walsh said of the mistakes. “We have a young team. We have four new offensive lineman, a new quarterback. So, you saw some special teams blunders that I attribute to inexperience. But this is a team that can only get better. As we gain experience and we get people back from injury and some other things, this is going to be a really, really good football team. All those things are out of our control. What we can control is our effort and our character and we showed what the Serra Padres have done and who we are.”
Who Serra is is very impressive. The Padre defense flew all over the field — with players like Kavapele Maka having monster games. They neutralized running back John Velasco and quarterback Chris Williams. After one half of football, the Padres and Spartans were locked in a 0-0 draw.
“We couldn’t run the ball,” Walsh said. “Our game plan was to spread them out and try to get to the edges, try to wear them down and get in a position to win the game. So, those four guys up front, they were just a total mismatch for us and I think we saw that in trying to run the football.
“[Defensively], I think that was one of our main things going in — move around on them a little bit and try to cause confusion because they’re just so good, they’re so methodical about the game. So, we tried to create some confusion by moving around early.”
The game plan worked almost perfectly in the first half and then looked near genius when Serra finally found a big play on offense courtesy of quarterback Matthew Fa'aita, who found running back Kelipi Lataimua up the left hash for a 44-yard gain. The pitch and catch set up a Fa’aita one-yard sneak to make it 7-0 with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
The Spartans had an answer on the ensuing drive. Fueled by a big kickoff return to put the ball on the Serra 44-yard line, De La Salle went seven plays before cashing in on a 22-yard touchdown run to tie the game up at 7-7.
The teams then exchanged non-scoring drives before Serra shocked the Spartans again, this time on an 85-yard broken play turned touchdown by Austin Jackson. Fa’aita was flushed out of the pocket, kept his composure and found a wide-open Jackson up the left sideline that sent the Serra faithful into a ruckus. The crowd really went nuts though five plays later after three straight Spartan penalties and then a fumble that Serra recovered on the De La Salle side of the field.
“It was the plays we knew we needed to make to compete against a team in a largely-favored situation,” Walsh said. “Did I predict we would have an 80-yard touchdown? No. But I was really proud how we executed. “
But after the Serra recovery, the Padres showed a bit of their youth. They failed to capitalize on that De La Salle turnover (their second) and then missed a 37-yard field goal attempt.
The Spartans took that gift and turned it into an 80-yard drive that Williams cashed in on with a one-yard sneak with 4:33 left in the game.
Then, Serra really cost themselves a chance for the upset when a Fa’aita pass was intercepted deep in its own territory — two plays later, Williams had his second touchdown and the Spartans had the lead for good.
“The only thing that matters is the belief system in the locker room,” Walsh said. “I know these kids and this coaching staff did everything they could to put ourselves in a position to win this game.”