Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 13, 2013

SHP a win from the state finals

by Keith Peters

Normally at this time of year, Andrew Segre is turning in his football shoes for soccer cleats. In fact, he should be playing against Woodside on Saturday in the Oak Grove Gold Cup.

Soccer for Segre, however, will have to wait at least one more week. There's one more game in the Gators' football season — the most important one in program history.

Sacred Heart Prep (12-1) will face El Cerrito (12-2) in the CIF Division III Northern California regional championship game at De Anza High in Richmond at 7:30 p.m.

The winner will face the winner of Nordhoff (13-1) vs. Corona del Mar (14-0) in the state finals on Saturday, Dec. 21 at the StubHub Center on the campus of Cal State University, Dominguez Hills at noon.

"It's awesome," said Segre, after learning of his team's first-ever post-Central Coast Section game. "We get one more week together as a team. It's amazing."

Sacred Heart Prep coach Pete Lavorato was pretty excited, as well.

"Just think about where we were 6-7 years ago," he said. "It's like that Virginia Slims commercial; you've come a long way, baby."

Despite going 12-1 last year, the Gators were passed over for a regional bowl berth when Sutter received the NorCal Division III berth. This time, SHP finished with the same record and won out over West Valley (12-1) of Cottonwood, the Northern Section champ.

The Gators, who have been playing football for only 15 years (Palo Alto by comparison just finished its 104th year), have only been in the CCS since 2008. During that time, the Gators have compiled a standout 62-13-1 record with three section titles and four appearances in the finals.

During that same period, perennial CCS power Bellarmine is 63-12-1 with three titles and four appearances in the finals. Thus, the Gators have come a long way in a hurry.

"We thought we had a pretty good team this year," said Lavorato. "I thought our body of work was pretty good. Our league is really tough and we did well in the playoffs."

But, Lavorato acknowledged: "We're in uncharted waters (this weekend). We should be OK. It's just great for the school and great for the kids; they've worked hard for this."

SHP will face an El Cerrito team that has won 10 straight. One of the Gauchos' losses came against Bellarmine, 28-25, at De Anza High in September.

El Cerrito won its first-ever North Coast Section title last weekend with a 54-38 romp over Main Catholic in San Leandro. UCLA-bound Adarius Pickett rushed for 255 yards and four touchdowns for the Gauchos.

"They've very talented," Lavorato said of Saturday's foe. "They have a number of Division I players. They're very athletic and big. All the things that are kind of scary. We have to play really well to have a shot."

While Sacred Heart Prep isn't stocked with the kind of Division I talent that El Cerrito has, the Gators do have senior running back Andrew Segre, a talented offensive line and a defense that statistically ranks at the finest in school history.

All were on display last Saturday night at Independence High as top-seeded SHP demolished iNo. 7 Pacific Grove, 56-21, in the CCS Division IV title game.

Segre rushed for a school-record 351 yards on 28 carries and scored six touchdowns as the Gators successfully defended their section title.

"Andrew's just an exceptional runner," said Lavorato. "He was running so well, we just kept giving him the ball."

Sacred Heart Prep's 56 points on Saturday night were the second-most ever scored in a CCS title game, tying Carmel's total from its 56-35 win over Menlo in 2009. The section record is 69 points by Valley Christian in a blanking of Pacific Grove in 2003. All the high-scoring games have come in Division IV finals.

The Gators, meanwhile, equaled the school record for most single-season victories, established last season, while winning their third section crown in the past four years and improving their postseason win streak to six.

Segre made it all happen with his career-best game. He had 268 rushing yards on 18 carries and four touchdowns in the first half alone as the Gators rolled to a 28-14 lead.

Segre was needed as the primary ballcarrier after senior Ricky Grau broke his hand during a CCS semifinal win over Monterey the previous weekend. Matt Odell replaced Grau, but was used primarily as a blocker for Segre. Grau already has had surgery on his hand and is done for the season.

Segre first scored on a 57-yard run, followed that with a 49-yard TD jaunt, made it a 21-0 game with a 15-yard scoring run and put SHP on top by 28-7 with a 17-yard TD.

Junior linebacker/running back Ben Burr-Kirven made it 35-14 in the second half with a 24-yard scoring run. At that point, the Gators had rushed for 337 yards and not attempted a single pass.

After Pacific Grove (11-2) got on the board, Segre tallied his fifth TD on a 10-yard run for a 49-21 lead. Teammate Anthony Robinson later picked off Pacific Grove's Luke Lowell and returned it 57 yards for another score and a 49-21 lead.

Appropriately enough, Segre wrapped things up with a 32-yard scoring run in the final minutes. He credited the blocking of Andrew Daschbach, Justin Harmon, Wyatt Wells, Patrick Finnigan, Alex Castro and Thomas Rogers for his career game.

Sacred Heart Prep's vaunted defense, which allowed just 40 points in three CCS playoff games, finished the season allowing an average of just 8.9 points a game.

"We really played SHP football," Lavorato said. "Our defense was absolutely wonderful."

Burr-Kirven, the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the PAL Bay Division, led the way with nine tackles, a sack and an interception. He leads the team with a 164 total tackles this season. Nic Collazo had three sacks, Paul Westcott finished with five tackles and a sack while Robinson added six tackles to his interception return for a TD.

Segre's effort, meanwhile, broke the school's single-game rushing mark of 321 yards by Matt Walter in 2009 and tied Walter's record of six touchdowns during a 48-23 nonleague win over Valley Christian-Dublin.

When asked what impressed him most about the win, Lavorato was succinct.

"The will of the kids. That first half they played so well," he said. "It's wonderful to be a part of this."

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