DEC. 6, 2014 — Sacred Heart Prep may not have set out this season to prove it belongs in the conversation with the elite football programs in the Bay Area.
In the opinion of SHP head coach Pete Lavorato, the team did that last year with its second consecutive Central Coast Section Division IV title.
Friday night at San Jose City College, however, the Gators cemented their legacy with a convincing three-peat, triumphing over Bellarmine 14-0 to capture the first CCS Open Division title in SHP history.
“We’re a good football team,” Lavorato said. “I don’t want to talk about … ‘validate,’ ‘prove,’ — baloney. We already proved it last year. We’re a good team. And we can line up and play … with most teams and be competitive. That’s really what [the CCS Open Division championship] says about our team.”
The Gators (13-0) made a statement in the second half Friday after 24 minutes of smash-mouth football more akin to a rugby match in the first half. Both teams grinded out ground yards and each missed a second-quarter field goal attempt to see the game gridlocked in a 0-0 tie at halftime.
“Overall, it’s just two hard-nosed teams going at it,” SHP quarterback Mason Randall said. “We both like to run the ball and we were trying to do that. It was a really physical game.”
Then, in the second half, the landslide began.
Burr-Kirven accounted for both SHP scores while rushing for a team-high 94 yards on 24 carries, and battled through a hip-pointer injury to do so.
“When he’s out there he’s going 100 percent, he’s giving everything he’s got,” Randall said. “Obviously, Ben is one of the best players in the Bay Area. So, we’ve got to do our job and let him do his thing, and we did that today.”
The Gators took the second-half kickoff and promptly matched 80 yards on 12 plays to get on the scoreboard. SHP went to the no-huddle, hurry-up offense with a massive ground attack, running the ball 11 plays on the drive.
Junior running back Lapitu Mahoni sparked the march on the drive’s second play, soldiering for a 17-yard run. It served as the Gators’ longest rush of the game. SHP then mixed it up with Mahoni, Riley Tinsley and Ben Burr-Kirven storming out of the backfield with steady gains before Randall hit Mitchell Martella for a 24-yard completion to the Bellarmine 9-yard line.
Two plays later, Burr-Kirven dove over the top of the Bellarmine goal-line defense to stake the Gators to a 7-0 lead.
“Our game is pounding the rock and throwing it when we need to,” Randall said. “So, that’s what we did and we executed it really well.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, Burr-Kirven added the final score of the night at the end of a long 17-play drive which ate up over eight minutes. It was a third-down play early in the drive which sustained it though, when junior Nick O’Donnell produced one of the most acrobatic catches of SHP’s season with a diving snag at the end of an all-out sprint up the sideline.
“If we can get some time off the clock and score, we’ll get them behind the eight ball,” Lavorato said of his team’s second-half strategy. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
It was SHP’s defense that shined throughout, holding Bellarmine (10-3) to just 153 total yards of offense. Bells senior running back Anthony Guttadauro accounted of 101 of those yards with a game-high rushing gain.
But facing a 14-0 deficit, Bellarmine was forced to the air and SHP quickly pounced. The Gators produced two fourth-quarter interceptions, the first by strong safety John Van Sweden on the second play following the game’s final score. His read of the Nick Becker pass essentially clinched the victory.
“My job was to get under one,” Van Sweden said. “So, I just got under one and looked for the ball and made a play.”
Burr-Kirven was visibly emotional after the game, noting it could be the last game he ever plays for SHP.
“I never imagined this when I came to this school,” Burr-Kirven said. “I knew we’d be good, but I never could have imagined we’d be the best. And we are the best right now, and no one can take that away.”
There is a good possibility it won’t be Burr-Kirven’s last game as a Gator though. As a CCS Division IV champion last season, SHP earned a state championship-game bid. This year’s decision is now in the hands of the postseason committee, which convenes Sunday to draw up the state pairings.
“It would mean the world,” Burr-Kirven said. “I would love to get my hands on some more kids and throw them around.”
When Lavorato was asked if he believes SHP deserves a bid, he pointed to the facts. With Friday’s win, the Gators now own an undefeated 13-0 record, shutting out one of the biggest football powerhouses in the CCS while taking a knee at the Bellarmine 7-yard line to end it.
Otherwise, he succinctly stated as to SHP’s deservingness: “Yes. Absolutely.”