One single football game can hold many individual moments of immortality.
Friday night, amidst frigid temperatures and an atmosphere made for Hollywood, the Serra Padres seized their moments.
Hamilton Anoa’i, :31 second mark of the third quarter.
Vince Camp, 11:48 of the fourth quarter.
Matt Fa’aita, 1:56 after that.
Kevin McGee, 5:33 before the buzzer.
When you string those key pieces of time together, you get a night that will live on forever in Junipero Serra football history.
For the first time ever, the Padres are the Central Coast Section Open Division champions by virtue of a 21-7 win over Archbishop Mitty. The win marks Serra’s third section title overall and almost certainly locks up a spot in the CIF Regional Champion as the top team in CCS.
“It’s good to make history,” Anoa’i said. “It’s the first time we get to hang an Open Division banner in our gym. It’s a goal we set out at the beginning of the season and it feels good to accomplish it.”
“It feels good,” Fa’aita said. “This is what we’ve focused on since Day 1 and to finally reach it, I’m at a loss for words right now. I’m just really happy for this team, this program.”
It’s a program that was handed a couple of speed bumps along their journey to the Open championship but was able to battle through that adversity. And that same theme played out Friday night against Mitty.
Tied at 0-0 come halftime and having benefited from a couple of missed field goals by the Monarchs, Serra saw their championship dreams dash down the Mitty sideline in the form of Dakari Monroe, who took a pitch 10 minutes into the third quarter 74 yards into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown. Monroe’s score came after Mitty stopped a fake field goal attempt by Serra and three plays after that, the Monarchs had themselves all the momentum and the lead.
“That’s life in playoff football,” said Serra head coach Patrick Walsh, who became a two-time CCS champion with the win Friday. “It’s going to happen. You’re going to be behind. You’re going to go through adversity. ... [you have to] fight through it.”
That’s exactly was Serra did.
After putting up just 95 yards of total offense in the first half and turning the ball over once, Serra, behind Fa’aita’s passing, found a bit of a groove to start the second half. While they didn’t score on their initial possession, the offense was showing signs of life that weren’t there in the first half.
Down 7-0, Fa’aita found Kava Cassidy on a big third down and long conversion to keep that crucial drive alive. Three plays later, Fa’aita hooked up with an ailing Anoa’i on a 30-yard touchdown pass, with No. 11 doing most of the work in the red zone after his catch.
“I got a key block from my teammate Ian McGuire and coach said we needed a big play,” Anoa’i said. “I just did my best to get into the end zone. When it comes down to a championship, I didn’t want to feel like I let my team down. Coach needed me and I wanted to make sure he knew that he could count on me to step up to the plate.”
“He basically had the opportunity to start believing in himself and believing in his receivers to make plays,” Walsh said of his quarterback. “Nobody panicked. Everyone was just calm and it wasn’t a chaotic scene on our sideline. That’s a testament to our senior leadership. We found our niche. Mitty made some great adjustments from the first game that kept us off-balanced in the first half. ”
The equalizing touchdown lifted the entire Serra Nation. One play into the fourth quarter, Camp came up with the turning point of the game. His interception and return deep into Mitty territory set the Padres up with first-and-goal from the 9-yard line. Three plays later, Fa’aita pushed his way into the end zone from a yard out to give Serra a lead they would not relinquish.
And then, after the Serra defense shut down Mitty one more time, Serra put the game away on a 57-yard drive that culminated with McGee’s 2-yard run with 5:33 left in the game.
“They’ve done that all year,” Walsh said of a defense that, with the exception of Monroe’s big run, shut the Monarchs down. “They say defense wins championships and I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. ... I guess tonight God is a Padre.”