“You shocked the world!”
That’ how Sacred Heart Prep football coach Pete Lavorato started his post-game meeting with his team following the Gators’ stunning 42-7 win over El Cerrito in the Northern California Division III regional championship game at De Anza High in Richmond Saturday night, sending the Gators to the Southern California for the state championship game.
And as Lavorato would tell reporters later, it was no fluke. The team no one had heard of — let alone given a chance — dominated the North Coast Section’s best the way it had all season: suffocating defense and virtually unstoppable offense.
While El Cerrito featured a quartet of players already committed to Division I college programs, the Gators featured a better team, which proved to be the difference. Unlike the college or pro level, a lesser-talented team can beat teams known more for its individual talent in high school for one simple reason, which Lavorato explained.
“It’s not about Xs and Os,” Lavorato said. “It’s about execution.”
The Gators out-executed the Gauchos in every facet of the game, which is why I gave SHP a shot to beat El Cerrito, one of the few who did. No one, other than the SHP team and Gator Nation, gave the small, private school from Atherton much of a chance to win. But the Gators had full faith in their scheme and abilities. If nothing else, the Gators were going to make sure the Gauchos know they were in a game, win or lose.
“We said, ‘We belong here.’ We saw an undisciplined team and we thought we could take them,’” said SHP’s Ben Burr-Kirven following his 161-yard, four-touchdown night. “Win or lose, we were going to make them respect us. I think they respect us (now).”
Now, the Gators prepare for Corona Del Mar-Newport Beach for the Division III state title. Once again, it’s likely not many people will give SHP a chance. But El Cerrito knows firsthand not to underestimate the gritty Gators.
In fact, one of the El Cerrito coaches gave Lavorato and the Gators a vote of confidence.
“We got beat up. You guys should win state.”
Mark Martella has been a fixture on the Sacred Heart Prep sidelines all season long. The father of Gators wide receiver Mitch Martella, Mark Martella spent the season as a parent photographer, taking pictures of the team — including his son.
Unfortunately, Mark Martella hasn’t had a lot of chances to get photos of his son making plays. Because the Gators employ a run-heavy offense, receivers are usually limited to blocking for most of the game.
Saturday night, however, Mitch Martella made his biggest play of the season and his dad was there to capture it on his camera’s memory card. Midway through the fourth quarter with SHP leading 35-7, the Gators faced a fourth-and-long at the El Cerrito 47-yard line. Eschewing a punt, Lavorato decided to go for it. Quarterback Mason Randall dropped back to pass and targeted Mitch Martella, who had a step on his defender. Randall released the pass downfield where the El Cerrito defensive back got a hand on the ball.
He tipped the ball up, however, and as he fell, Mitch Martella kept his eye on the ball and made a juggling catch in stride. The Gauchos defense caught up to him inside the 10-yard line, but Martella bulled his way into the end zone for the score and an exclamation point on the Gators’ 42-7 victory.
I hope dad got the shot.
One of the highlights of the Del Oro-Serra Nor Cal Division I championship game Friday night came during pregame, when Serra student Soane Mafi sang the national anthem.
In a deep bass (baritone?) voice, Mafi added some soul to “The Star Spangled Banner,” which was a nice change from all those who try to use an eight-octave range to sing the song.
Mafi got a lot of love from the Serra sideline following his performance and I wanted to let him know that I was watching — and listening.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.