Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 6, 2013

SHP takes a defensive stand in the title game

Gators have allowed just an average of 7.9 points per game heading into section finals against high-scoring Pacific Grove

by Andrew Preimesberger

Sacred Heart Prep wrapped up the finest season in its football history one year ago, finishing 12-1 and winning the Central Coast Section Division IV title. The Gators allowed an average of just 9.9 points during their 13-game season.

The 2013 season will come to a close on Saturday night when top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep (11-1) takes on No. 7-seeded Pacific Grove (11-1) in the CCS Division IV title game at Independence High in San Jose at 7 p.m.

As good as the Gators were on defense a year ago, they are even better now. Heading into the championship game, SHP is allowing just 7.9 points per contest.

"I think there are a number of reasons our defense has been so good," said SHP coach Pete Lavorato. "Number 1, is our defensive coordinator, Mark Modest. He does a great job with game-planning and teaching the players. Matt Moran, our line coach, is excellent, as well.

"Our kids are very coachable and, while not big, pretty quick."

The Gators have allowed only 19 points in two CCS playoff games, a 35-12 win over Seaside and a 34-7 victory over Monterey last Saturday. SHP is working on a five-game win streak in postseason play. The Gators' last loss came in 2011 to eventual Division IV champ Palma (34-7).

Even more impressive is what Sacred Heart Prep has accomplished since joining the CCS in 2008. Should the Gators win on Saturday, they'll have a 62-13-1 record over the past six years along with three section titles and four appearances in the finals.

During that same time, Bellarmine has gone 63-12-1, won three CCS titles and appeared in four championship games.

SHP defeated offensive-minded Menlo School in last year's CCS finale, 13-7. Contributing to the low score was the fact the game was played in a horrendous rain storm. The weather is expected to be clear and cold on Saturday, but the Gators will face another high-powered offense. In last week's semifinals, Pacific Grove tied a CCS scoring record in its 77-53 win over No. 3 Carmel.

"They're going to be tough," said Lavorato, whose team beat Pacific Grove, 48-15, in last year's opening round. "It's two contrasting styles. It's going to be a real exciting game."

Pacific Grove ran for 414 yards and threw for 319 in the wild-scoring semifinal. Perhaps more importantly, the Breakers gave up 448 yards — 153 on the ground — and 53 points. In SHP's win over No. 5 Monterey, the Gators rushed for 355 and threw for 127 more. Sacred Heart Prep is averaging 354 rushing yards in its two playoff games and has given up a touchdown or less in seven games this season.

Clearly, SHP has the ability to slow down Pacific Grove. But, can the same be said for the Breakers?

In last weekend's win over Monterey, senior Andrew Segre rushed for 123 yards and one TD while junior Ben Burr-Kirven gained 112 rushing yards and scored three times.

Burr-Kirven wasn't expecting to carry the ball, but took up some slack when starter Ricky Grau suffered a leg injury in the first quarter.

"We're a big family," said Segre. "We're fighting just to have one more week for this family to get another CCS championship."

Segre led off Sacred Heart's first drive of the game with a three-yard dive up the middle for a touchdown, putting the Gators up 7-0 in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Burr-Kirven ran past the Toreadores' defense for a six-yard touchdown to give his team the 14-0 halftime lead.

"We had big holes on every play, we just had to follow them; the O' line played really well," said Segre.

It only took three plays for Sacred Heart to score on its opening drive of the third quarter. Burr-Kirven came through again and sprinted down the side line for a 66-yard touchdown, giving the Gators the 20-0 edge.

Not only did Burr-Kirven rack up three offensive touchdowns, he also led the Gators' defense that allowed only 133 total yards. Burr-Kirven was credited with 17 tackles, 11 of them solo.

"He's the best high school player I've ever coached," said Lavorato. "I think he's the best high school player I've ever seen; he's a special kid."

The Toreadores got on the board in the third quarter before Burr-Kirven ran in for an eight-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to wrap things up.

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