A lot can happen over a 10-week high school football season, as both Terra Nova and King’s Academy can attest.
For roughly half a season, these teams appear to be going in opposite directions. King’s Academy won its first seven games to start the season. Terra Nova, on the other hand, was riding a roller coaster. The Tigers dropped their season opener to Riordan, but followed that with a three-game winning streak. They then were buried by Sacred Heart Prep (42-10) and Menlo-Atherton (47-23) to open Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division play 0-2.
But the Knights then lost their final three regular season games, while Terra Nova won their final three Bay Division games to finish in a tie for second place in the division.
Now, both No. 1 seeded King’s Academy (9-3) and No. 2 Terra Nova (8-4) have won two in a row at the most important time of the season — the Central Coast Section playoffs — and with those two wins they find themselves squaring off for the CCS Division III championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Westmont High School in Campbell.
“To be honest, I figured it would be a challenge just to get into the playoffs. It’s a pleasant surprise (to be in the CCS championship game),” said Terra Nova’s first-year head coach Jason Piccolotti. “Hopefully we can win three in a row again.”
Both teams got to this point in different fashions. Terra Nova rode its defense to a 14-7 win over Burlingame in one semifinal last week, while King’s Academy survived a barnburner, stopping an Aptos 2-point conversion to seal a 31-30 victory.
“We were up by 10 and had the ball and I figured this game was over,” said King’s Academy head coach Pete Lavorato, who got a huge showing from Noah Short. The junior scored a 48-yard touchdown in relief of an injured Jayden Frazier — who is expected to play Saturday — to give the Knights a 24-14 lead. He also picked off a pass, recovered a fumble and on the final play of the game, filled the gap and stopped the Aptos running back on the 2-point conversion.
Not coincidentally, it was the regular-season meeting between these teams that set the stage for the CCS championship. Terra Nova seemed to have turned its season around going into that Nov. 1 game, having won its two previous games. King’s Academy was coming off its first loss of the season, 24-9 to Sacred Heart Prep.
Eight Knights turnovers — five interceptions and three fumble recoveries —later, the Tigers emerged with a 35-16 win.
“Our guys were attacking the ball (defensively),” Piccolotti said. “That was kind of the turning point for our defense.”
The offensive turning point came earlier in the season as the Tigers transitioned from a pass-first team to a run-first team. The emergence of running back Jalen Camp made for an easy transition as the senior has rushed for 1,656 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. In two postseason games, Camp has run for 511 yards and five scores, including 203 yards and both touchdowns in the win over Burlingame.
“Midway through the year, one of my other coaches came to me and said, ‘We just need to run the ball more,’” Piccolotti said. “[Camp] is phenomenal. He made the decision a lot easier.”
Terra Nova will need another strong performance from Camp to beat the Knights for a second time this season. Both coaches know that first meeting is completely different if not for the turnovers.
“We actually outgained them (offensively in the first game),” Lavorato said. The Knights had 428 yards of offense compared to 300 for the Tigers.
“I think we can play with them.”
Piccolotti came to a similar conclusion.
“King’s Academy … they’re impressive. We know going into this game (Saturday), that first game means nothing,” Piccolotti said. “If anything, (the first meeting) proved we can play with them.”