Senior running back Colin Terndrup, who stands an inch under six feet and has a heart the size of a watermelon, scored three second-half touchdowns and Sacred Heart scored four unanswered touchdowns to beat Carmel, 39-32, and claim the Central Coast Section Division IV championship, the school's first in football, Saturday at Westmont High in Campbell.
The Gators (11-2), however, could only watch and mumble to themselves as defending champion Carmel built a seemingly safe lead early in the second half.
Brian Moran, who took a lesson from SHP grad Chris Gaertner, a walk-on at Stanford, went from silent meditation before the game to a bellowing, emotional young man when the chips were falling off the Gators' wagon.
Geary and the rest of the seniors merely drew a metaphorical line in the sand and said, in effect, this is where we make our stand.
Duke and his inside linebacker partner Hunter Shaw were busy pumping each other up, the younger Moran yelling "Hunter, let's go all out. I'm going to break my neck if I have to." He didn't, thanks to a defense that refused to budge.
Carmel's dynamic junior quarterback Devin Pearson raced 83 yards on the first play of scrimmage in the second half to give the Padres a 32-11 advantage. He rushed for 207 yards and passed for another 83 yards while the Padres combined for 342 total yards.
The Padres had four more possessions before the game would end with Geary taking a knee on Carmel's 10-yard line. The Gators stopped Carmel on downs twice, and Adam Cropper and Robert Ojeda each intercepted a pass to not only stop drives but set up the tying and go-ahead touchdowns.
"I know they have a good quarterback and we had to keep him contained," Duke Moran said. "Once we were able to do that we knew we could pick it up."
Senior Bo Sakowski had tears forming when the Gators scored the go-ahead score. Minutes later he showed off his speed by racing for the bucket of ice water that would eventually be overturned on members of the coaching staff.
Pete Lavorato, in his eighth year at the school, received the CCS coaches' plaque, then turned around and raised his arms, eliciting another loud roar from his team.
Microseconds after the awards ceremony was completed, the team raced toward the stands to slap hands and exchange goodwill with family and friends.
"All I could think about was four years of the hardest work in my life paid off," Geary said. "It's been eight years for coach Lavorato. I just want to thank him and all the coaches who helped us reach this point."
Geary threw for 182 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with senior Tomas O'Donnell eight times for 108 yards, including scores of three and nine yards.
Terndrup, who rushed for 102 yards on 23 carries, also caught a touchdown pass of 62 yards. He scored the Gators' final two touchdowns on runs of 13 and six yards.
Senior Jack Odell converted four extra points and kicked a 23-yard field goal. Geary ran for a two-point conversion.
"We were not going to get blown out," Geary said. "We couldn't lose like that. All we could do was fight. All the seniors kept making sure we would battle."
Brian Moran, who settles himself with a pre-game prayer, reminded his teammates in no uncertain terms that Menlo beat Carmel earlier in the year.
"He's really the emotional leader of this team," Geary said. "If we ever get down he's yelling at us to get back up."
"If a guy gets down you just want to make sure he lets that go and gets back into it," said Moran, who has verbally committed to Stanford. "I just can't lose. When I was a sophomore, I promised a senior that we would win a CCS title. Even when we got down, I knew we would come back."
As did Terndrup, especially once the Gators tied it at 32.
"At that point, I think we had gained pretty much all the momentum in the game and felt we were going to win the game," Terndrup said.
And the Gators did just that, making good on something one of the coaches said the night before.
"One of our coaches said at the team dinner the night before that they'll always remember the first one (CCS title)," Terndrup recalled. "So, it feels great to be a part of the first Sacred Heart championship football team."