Tevita Moimoi has some kind of motor.
With the Sacred Heart Prep Gators facing a fourth-quarter deficit Saturday afternoon at Palatella Field, Moimoi made his presence felt. The senior is seeing more playing time than he ever has on the varsity gridiron, starting at both running back and linebacker for the Gators.
And as Saturday’s game wore on, Moimoi kept getting better and better, leading SHP to its second straight win to start the year, a 28-21 victory over St. Ignatius.
“Toward the end of the game, as you would expect, you could see guys getting tired,” SHP head coach Mark Grieb said. “But Tevita, you could see, he was just picking up steam.”
And the Daily Journal Athlete of the Week finished with a flourish.
After the Gators tied the game 21-21 midway through the fourth quarter, a gutsy defensive stop gave the ball back to SHP with a long field and 4:25 to play. Starting at their own 22-yard line, the Gators went on a 10-play march, with Moimoi carrying the ball on seven of them.
“The way he hit the hole, it was like he shot out of a cannon,” Grieb said. “Tevita is an explosive player to begin with but he was just running so strong.”
En route to carrying the ball 29 times for 164 yards and two touchdowns, Moimoi opened with gains of 13, 9 and 33 yards to hammer the ball into the red zone. Then, on his fifth consecutive carry, he pounded the ball in for a 2-yard score.
The home crowd at Palatella Field erupted with a roar that could be heard at neighboring Menlo School. And two plays later, senior defensive back Wilson Weisel came up with SHP’s second interception of the quarter to seal the victory.
“It was electrified,” Moimoi said of the crowd’s response to the game-winning touchdown. “Everyone was on their feet. Not as big as Wilson Weisel’s interception but it was still up there.”
This performance marked the second straight year Moimoi has enjoyed a big showing against St. Ignatius. Last year in the opening game of the Central Coast Section Open Division III playoffs, SHP saved the dramatics for defense, posting 10 first-quarter points that held up for a 13-7 win. Moimoi went 101 yards on 15 carries in that one.
“He was an animal running the ball, just running through tackles,” Grieb said. “So he, more than anybody else, had a really good idea of what to expect (this year).”
This year, Moimoi has settled into the backfield along with his cousin, fullback Tatafu Mahoni. The two grew up playing Pop Warner Youth Football as linemen with the Menlo-Atherton Vikings. Mahoni initially attended Menlo-Atherton High School, but transferred to SHP prior to last year.
Their pairing in the Gators backfield is the first time they’ve played skill positions for the same team.
Moimoi credited the extra work he and Mahoni have been putting in after practice for his stamina in Saturday’s tireless performance.
“I felt great actually,” Moimoi said. “The week of the game me and [Mahoni] … we were staying after practice doing extra conditioning. So that definitely helped in the game.”
That stamina was as critical on defense as it was on offense.
After St. Ignatius took the lead 21-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Teddye Buchanan to Danny Ryan, the Wildcats took the ball right back on the ensuing kickoff with a recovery on a pooch kick. St. Ignatius took over at the SHP 27-yard line with a chance to go up by two touchdowns.
But after a holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 40, Moimoi produced a big hit on Buchanan two plays later, hammering through a block from the running back to drill the quarterback and force an incompletion.
“He essentially went right through the running back and hit the quarterback just as he threw the ball, which you can tell affected him … because the throw ended up being short,” Grieb said. “That was a huge play in the game.”
On the following play, a third-and-21 from the SHP 38, Gators junior linebacker Cav Williams trailed a receiver over the middle and stepped in front of a Buchanan pass for an interception.
“That was just a game-changing moment right there,” Moimoi said.
Two scoring drives and another interception later, it was game over.
“Then we took the victory formation and that was the end of the game,” Moimoi said.
A 1,000-yard rusher last season — totaling 1,005 yards rushing as a junior — Moimoi had never recorded back-to-back 100-yard games. With 281 rushing yards through two games, he has now gone triple-digits in consecutive games, including 117 in SHP’s season opener against Carlmont.