SAN JOSE — The night started on one of those “God is a Serra Padres fan” moments.
While the national anthem was being sung prior to the Central Coast Section Division I championship game Saturday night at Independence High School, the wind was whipping fiercely from the south end zone. So, a few minutes later, when the Padres took the opening possession from their own 25-yard line needing to navigate straight into that wind, it seemed the blue and gold had their work cut out for them.
Then a peculiar thing happened. That wind suddenly died down, No. 1-seed Serra marched for a score on its opening drive and the defense was infallible in delivering its second shutout of the year against No. 2 Valley Christian as the Padres reveled in a 17-0 victory to claim the program’s sixth all-time CCS championship.
“Two shutouts against a great Valley Christian team, it’s phenomenal,” Serra head coach Patrick Walsh said. “It’s heroic type stuff from the kids and the staff on defense. It was incredible.”
Serra (12-1 overall) benefitted from six Valley Christian turnovers, including four fumbles. All four of those fumbles were forced by the Padres, three coming on quarterback sacks: two by senior defensive end Jerry Gaoteote, who added a recovery, and one by senior linebacker Will Mauer. Senior safety Jackson Lataimua added a fumble recovery and a key interception late in the game.
“We followed the same game plan as last time,” Lataimua said. “We just had to execute. We knew we couldn’t come out flat. They’re a great team and they can push whenever they want to. But it was up to us.”
Lataimua got called upon for consistent two-way duty, pacing Serra out of the backfield with six carries for 38 yards. Sophomore running back Hassan Mahasin matched that total with 12 carries for 38 yards. But it was sophomore quarterback Dom Lampkin who rushed for a game-high 40 yards on 13 carries, including both Serra touchdowns.
On Serra’s opening drive — an 18-play, 75-yard grind — Lampkin had several key pickups, including a 16-yard pass to senior slot receiver Nate Sanchez for a third-down conversion near midfield. Lampkin later capped the drive with a 1-yard QB sneak on fourth down.
But it was a previous fourth-down conversion that loomed large, with Serra executing a fake field goal to perfection. Place kicker Damon Lewis lined up on fourth-and-4 for a look from 26 yards out, but placeholder David Silk took the snap and sidearmed a shuffle pass to Lataimua, who blasted through a crowd for a 4-yard gain to move the chains.
“I saw the hole open up and I just tossed it to him,” said Silk, who had never previously thrown a pass in an official game in his life. “And I knew he’d do the dirty work.”
Valley Christian’s offense didn’t get onto the field until the closing minute of the first quarter thanks to a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. The Padres stripped the ball loose from the Warriors’ returner to take over at the Valley Christian 40-yard line.
Serra had a chance to add on by lining up for a 25-yard field goal, but the snap was behind Silk and Lewis, for a second time, didn’t take a kick on a field-goal formation. The third time was a charm, however, as the Padres defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense moved into the red zone to give Lewis a shot at a 33-yard field goal. This time, the senior connected to give Serra a 10-0 lead.
The score remained the same until the fourth quarter, thanks to a big interception by Serra sophomore Andrew Stewart to start the second half.
In the first half, Valley Christian (11-2) totaled just three first downs. But the Warriors doubled that number on their opening drive of the second half, using two pass completions of 16 and 9 yards by quarterback Cory Taylor, advancing to the Serra 13, the only time all night Valley Christian took the ball into the red zone.
A holding penalty pushed the Warriors back to the 23, and on the next play Stewart shadowed short slant route and managed to get out front of his mark. So, when the ball was slightly overthrown, Stewart was there to gather it for the INT.
The Padres then totaled three takeaways in the fourth quarter, the big one coming with under four minutes to go when Lataimua picked off a Taylor pass at the Valley 20 and returned it to the 1-yard line. On the following play, Lampkin scored on his second sneak of the night to seal the win.
Lataimua looked exhausted in running back onto the field to line up in the goal-line offense after his near pick-6. After the game, though, the senior was rejuvenated.
“I felt great,” Lataimua said. “I’ve still got some more left in me.”
In a season that opened with some eye-popping wins for Serra — including non-league routs of Pittsburg and St. Mary’s-Stockton — the Week 2 win over Menlo-Atherton certainly featured the most esteemed venue at Levi’s Stadium. Well, beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all, maybe Independence High School now holds more esteem for the Padres.
“Playing at Independence, for sure,” Serra defensive end Nusi Malani said. “We fought for this and we finally got it. The track workouts and everything, it just all came into play today.”
With the win, Serra advances to the CIF Northern California Division 1-A regional championship. The Padres will play host to San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno Saturday at noon.
This is the third time in four years the Padres will play of a Nor Cal championship, having won the Division 2-A title in 2016 and the Division 2-AA title in 2017. This year, Serra returns to the regional championship game — with a trip to the Division 1-A State Championship bowl on the line — with only Lewis, Malani and a handful of players who did not see the field that postseason still remaining on roster.
“I think the thing is we have a program that is deeper than just winning,” Walsh said. “Honestly, it’s about love, brotherhood and humility. These are our core values, and these are the things that we believe in. And when the staff, the players, the parents follow the script, things tend to happen on the field as well.”