The Sacred Heart Prep and Aragon football teams came out to the hash marks on their respective sides the field following the Gators’ 49-12 win in San Mateo Friday night.

The final score was beside the point. Knowing there would be no post-game handshakes as part of the COVID-19 protocols, the teams faced off — and applauded each other. Recognition that all high sports teams had overcome incredible odds to take the field for the 2020-21 season opener for both squads.

“You just appreciate playing,” said SHP head coach Mark Grieb. “The enthusiasm from everyone on the teams was awesome.”

The Gators certainly enjoyed themselves as they put together an effort that belied the fact both teams really only ramped up practice two weeks ago. SHP was balanced offensively and its defense held Aragon in check through most of the game.

The Gators did the bulk of their damage through the air, especially in the first half as they built a 28-6 lead. Senior quarterback Teddy Purcell was on point, connecting on 10 of 13 pass attempts for 145 yards and three touchdowns. His three incomplete passes were drops by his receivers.

“Teddy has improved so much. He’s been wanting this for months. His mindset is … he wants to play in college,” Grieb said. “He is so accurate. He is such a competitor.

Overall, the Gators were 13-for-18 for 214 yards and the three scores.

“It felt like we were throwing the ball all over the field,” Grieb said. “It felt like (an) ‘Air Raid’ (offense).”

It helps to have the receiving corps the Gators have. Aragon simply had no answer for 6-5 Paul Barton. While listed as a tight end on the SHP roster, Barton did a pretty good impersonation of a wide receiver as he finished with four catches for 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

His first was a 20-yard fade on the first play after Will Mackie stripped an Aragon ball carrier and returned it 20 yards.

The second was a copy of the first, only this time the score was good from 32 yards out that put SHP up 28-0 with just over a minute left in the first quarter.

Despite seeing his defense give up a couple of big-play scores to Barton, Aragon head coach Steve Sell believed his defenders were in position to make a play.

“They’re quarterback and wide receiver play was just exceptional,” Sell said of the Gators’ aerial attack.

“What’s encouraging is they beat good coverage. They made the plays.”

Additionally, Jackson Girouard finished with three catches for 49 yards and Beck Anderson hauled in three more passes for 47 yards.

While the Gators’ air attack was the surprising feature of their offense, they certainly did not abandon the run as they put forth a balanced effort any coach would be pleased with. In addition to 214 yards passing, SHP also rushed for 217 yards, led by 77 yards on 13 carries from Andrew Latu. The Gators also added four touchdowns on the ground — Latu recorded a hat trick of scores, while Luis Mendoza added one in the fourth quarter.

Aragon, meanwhile, had some success offensively in the opening two quarters. After punting on their first possession, the Dons took over following a Latu 6-yard score that capped a 13-play, 75-yard drive. The Dons went on a long drive of their own. Starting on their own 30, Aragon drove to the SHP 28 before turning the ball over on downs.

The Gators capitalized on their ensuing possession and went up 14-0 when Latu plunged in from a yard out.

Aragon football

Aragon's Alan Tanielu beats a pair of Sacred Heart Prep defenders to the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown pass from Daren Randolph to get the Dons on the scoreboard late in the first half.

The two Barton scores put the Gators up 28-0 before Aragon finally answered. Starting from their 35, the Dons moved the ball to the SHP 42 with under a minute to play in the first half. On second down, Aragon quarterback Daren Randolph, making his first-ever start under center, found Alan Tanielu down the right sideline on a wheel route. Tanielu hauled in the pass and beat a pair of Gators defenders to the end zone to get the Dons on the scoreboard.

Sell thought his team was still in the game at halftime, but when he found out Randolph couldn’t go in the second half because of a hit he took on the touchdown pass, the Dons’ prospects for winning dimmed.

The Dons added their second score midway through the third quarter when the Gators fumbled a snap that was scooped up by Aragon linebacker Valentino Faaumu, who avoided one tackle and rumbled 20 yards for the score.

Despite the loss, Sell was encouraged by his team’s performance. He said when he team opened the 2019 season with a 48-6 loss to Leland, Sell said his feelings about that season were, “Uh oh.”

“Now, I’m encouraged,” Sell said.

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