Since the Gators joined the CCS for football in 2008, they have faced the Knights three times in the section playoffs. SHP has won twice and Menlo once. Each postseason victory coincided with that team winning the regular-season Valparaiso Bowl.
In 2008, Sacred Heart Prep won the Valpo Bowl and then defeated Menlo in the CCS Small School Division playoffs, 28-14. In 2009, the Knights captured the Valpo Bowl, 27-21, and later topped the Gators in the Division IV semifinals, 20-14. In 2010, SHP defeated Menlo in the bowl game, 35-7, and later cruised to a 49-21 triumph in the postseason.
That brings us to Saturday's historic showdown at Terra Nova High in Pacifica, with the kickoff at 7 p.m. The local rivals will be meeting for the first time ever in a CCS championship football game.
For those looking for a favorite, perhaps look no further than the 2012 Valpo Bowl results: Sacred Heart Prep 31, Menlo 28.
"This is the third time we have made it to the final round of the playoffs, so I'm excited," said SHP coach Pete Lavorato, who this week was named PAL Bay Division Coach of the Year. "It's wonderful to get to the finals. There are not too many teams that can say that."
Both Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo can say that after their big-time performances in the semifinals last weekend. The No. 2-seeded Gators (11-1) advanced thanks to a 47-17 victory over No. 6 Soquel (9-3) last Saturday in Atherton. Fourth-seeded Menlo (10-2) started the neighborhood party with a 41-27 upset of top-seeded and host Seaside (11-1) on Friday night.
The Gators have chance to set a school record for most single-season wins by winning on Saturday. SHP finished 11-1-1 after losing to Sacred Heart Cathedral in the '08 finals. The Knights, meanwhile, will be looking for their first 11-win season in CCS. Menlo went 12-0 in 1990 while playing in the North Coast Section. The Knights' current 10 wins are their most since joining the CCS.
Menlo is averaging 48.5 points in two section wins while SHP is averaging 46 points per game in the postseason.
What has carried the Gators this season, however, is defense. That was the case once again against Soquel.
"I thought the defense today controlled their running back today," Lavorato said of Soquel senior Fabiano Hale. "Offensively, we ran the ball well, too."
Hale finished the season with Santa Cruz County record of 2,340 yards and 41 touchdowns. Hale was held to 125 yards by Sacred Heart's tenacious defense, which limited the Knights to their lowest scoring total of the season. Soquel had been averaging 43 points a game.
Mike Covell (14 tackles), Paul Westcott (13) plus Daniel Thaure (10), Nick Salzman (10) and Ben Burr-Kirven led the defensive effort. Thaure this week was named PAL Bay Division Defensive Player of the Year.
Sacred Heart Prep came into the game limiting opponents to an average of 9.5 points a game, the best defensive mark in the CCS.
The Gators came out strong with junior Andrew Segre scoring on a nine-yard run on the very first possession. On their second drive of the game, senior quarterback Kevin Donahoe connected with wide receiver Rex Shannon for an 81-yard touchdown putting SHP up 14-3 after the first quarter. Shannon, who came into the game with 285 yards and three touchdowns, finished with 134 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
"Kevin Donahoe played absolutely unbelievable," said Shannon. "He threw some great balls, so I've got to give the credit to him."
Donahoe found a wide-open Shannon again for a 22-yard touchdown putting the Gators up 33-10 to end the first half. Donahoe completed 5-of-6 passes for 151 yards in the first half alone and finished 6-of-7 for 166.
The strong Sacred Heart running game came into full effect in the second half when Segre ran in for a 14-yard touchdown to widen the gap for the Gators, 40-17. Segre and senior Ryan Gaertner combined for 242 total yards, with Gaertner leading the way with 135 yards on 18 carries.
In the fourth quarter Segre muscled his way in for a four-yard touchdown to put the Gators up 47-17, He finished with 107 yards and three touchdowns as the Gators gained 301 on the ground.
"I can't describe how excited I am," said Donahoe. "Our whole goal this year was to make it to CCS finals, and then the fact that we play a team that's our crosstown rival — it's going to be a lot of fun."
A night earlier, Menlo School advanced to its second-ever CC championship game by ruining Seaside's perfect season. Menlo last reached the CCS finals in 2009.
Menlo junior quarterback Jack Heneghan continued his sensational season by completing 22 of 37 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions to ruin the Spartans" perfect season (11-1). Heneghan now has thrown for 2,698 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. This week he was named Offensive Player of the Year in the PAL Ocean Division.
Equally important, Heneghan converted seven of 10 third- or fourth-down plays for first downs in the final 15 minutes of the game.
Seaside quarterback Michael Turner completed 12 of 20 passes for 296 yards and four touchdowns. However, Turner threw a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter while trying to rally the Spartans from a 14-point deficit.
Heneghan opened with an eight-yard TD pass to Peter Bouret in the first quarter, but Seaside countered with a 28-yard scoring toss from Turner to his younger brother, Ronald.
The Knights grabbed the lead back when Travis Chambers caught an 11-yard TD pass from Heneghan. Menlo made it a 20-7 game when Matt Bradley tossed a halfback option pass to Connor Stastny for a 17-yard score.
After Seaside rallied with a TD to make it 20-14, Heneghan went back to work and found Chambers for a six-yard scoring toss to make it 27-14. The Spartans, however, scored once again just before halftime and Menlo took a 27-20 lead into halftime.
Menlo opened the second half with what turned out to be the deciding touchdown when Will King grabbed a Seaside punt that had hit another Menlo player and strolled into the end zone from five yards for a 34-20 lead.
Stastny and Heneghan hooked up later for a 17-yard touchdown to put the icing on the Knights' celebratory cake. Stastny, the 2012 Wide Receiver of the Year in the PAL Ocean Division, finished with seven catches for 89 yards. Teammate Max Parker was named Special Teams Player of the Year.
For Menlo to beat Sacred Heart Prep, Heneghan needs to continue his outstanding season and the Knights need to play error-free ball. For the Gators to win, they must stop Heneghan and force Menlo into turnovers. Just like in the Valpo Bowl.