It is an instant classic.
And like every other football game that falls under that category, unfortunately, despite the fact that both teams left every single ounce of themselves on the field, there has to be a winner and a loser.
On Friday night, Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo-Atherton locked up in such a battle in what turned out to be a 15-12 win for the Gators.
The game had everything you’d want in a Friday game under the lights — drama, emotion, big momentum swings and late-game heroics and come Monday morning at the SHP campus, the student body will be singing the praises of a Gator team who overcame a dominant first-half Bear performance and pulled off a miraculous Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division win.
“I’m a bit loss for words,” said SHP head coach Peter Lavorato. “These kids, they’re tough sons of guns.”
M-A lead 12-0 for the majority of the game and held SHP scoreless up until the 8:39 mark of the fourth quarter. It was then that the Gators, after the Bears stifled them in quarters one through three, finally found the end zone on a Ricky Grau 4-yard touchdown run that was set up by a short M-A punt. Up until that point, any sort of momentum belonged to Menlo-Atherton and it’s safe the say the Bears had basically dominated.
Consider that in the first quarter of play, M-A held the ball for all but seven seconds — allowing SHP to get off just two offensive plays, one of which resulted in a Bears safety.
M-A ran 24 plays in that first quarter and found the end zone on an Isiah Nash 3-yard touchdown run to cap off a period of football that saw the Bears outgain SHP 73 to minus-2. A late field goal in the second quarter increased the lead to 12-0 right before recess. At the end of two quarters, M-A had put up 257 yards on the heralded Sacred Heart defense and held the Gator offense to just 48 yards and 17 plays — heck, Nash alone had better numbers (19 rushes, 93 yards, one catch for 31) than the entire SHP team.
“We came out really flat,” said SHP linebacker and running back Ben Burr-Kirven. “We knew we had to step it up. We had to come out stronger and play with more heart. They’re a tough team with some big guys. We needed more emotion.”
“They’re offensive coordinator called a great game,” Lavorato said. “He really had us off kilter. I don’t think we were ready for the speed of the game.”
Despite being behind on the scoreboard and the stat sheet, Lavorato said he and his coaching staff didn’t change much and there was little yelling or anything of that sort during halftime. If anything, he added, he felt that once his players got a taste of this particular game’s speed (after two weeks without a live opponent), they’d self adjust.
He was right. While offensively, the Gators didn’t have any points on the scoreboard to show for their work, they looked like a different team in the third quarter. On its first drive alone, SHP outdid their first half production and on defense, M-A’s drive weren’t as poignant. The Bears were also bit hard by the penalty bug on Friday night — in all, M-A drew 11 penalties, several of which were influential down the stretch.
After Grau drew the Gators closer with 8:39 left, the Bears went to work and were driving the ball down on SHP before making the biggest error of the game. On second down, M-A fumbled and the ball was recovered by SHP on their own 45-yard line.
“I was praying for that one,” Lavorato said. “I was praying for a turnover because M-A is a tough team to stop. That said, we also had to execute and finish off that drive in order to win. So I give our guys a lot of credit for that.”
With ball in hand and 6:24 on the clock, SHP drove down the field, completing a huge fourth down play in the process to set up first-and-goal from the 5-yard line with 1:35 left. Two plays later, it was Burr-Kirven who bulldozed his way into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
The same SHP defense that surrendered 257 yards in the first half held M-A to 118 in the second half — some of that aided by Nash’s absence as he went down with a knee injury following a big hit on an attempted pass play.
The Bears did drive down to the SHP 22-yard line and attempted a 39-yard field goal with time winding down. The kick was straight enough, but was short by about two yards.