"This is our biggest game this year," Sacred Heart senior running back Andrew Segre said of the showdown. "We need to get ready for it."
Part of the reason that Friday's game (kickoff is 2:45 p.m.) means so much for Sacred Heart is because of the result of last year's matchup.
The Gators had a phenomenal 2012 season, racking up a 12-1 record on their way to a CCS Division IV championship. The only blemish for that dominant squad came in an early season 20-13 road loss to Terra Nova, which ended up finishing with a record of just 6-5 after losing in the first round of the CCS Open Division.
Despite last year's loss, Sacred Heart Prep head coach Pete Lavorato emphasized that his Gators would only be focusing on the game ahead of his team.
"There's no revenge on our mind," Lavorato said. "Terra Nova's a good football team. They played hard last year and beat us fair and square. It's a new year, so we'll see what happens."
Perhaps the biggest difference for the Gators this season is the person now under center. Sophomore Mason Randall has taken over the starting quarterback duties, replacing the graduated Kevin Donahoe.
Although Donahoe had a lot of success for Sacred Heart, Randall has been statistically his superior, completing a higher percentage of his throws (66 percent to 53 percent), averaging a higher yard- per- pass-attempt ratio (15.3 to 9.6) and delivering a better overall QB rating (124 to 118).
"Randall does such a good job for a sophomore," Lavorato said. "He's very poised back there."
SHP has had a lot of success offensively this season, averaging 38 points a game behind a strong offensive line and ground attack that pounds out an average of 261 rushing yards per game.
On the flipside, Terra Nova's defense has been great at stopping the run this season, holding good rushing schools such as Menlo-Atherton and Sequoia to well under their season averages in rushing yards.
Terra Nova has a really good defense, they've always been good," Randall said. "But on offense, I feel like if we just do our thing, we'll do alright."
Defensively, the Gators will have their hands full with one of the best passing attacks in the CCS, as junior quarterback Aaron Gordon already has thrown for 2,507 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season, with a 71 percent completion rate.
Sacred Heart's secondary will have to cover a bevy of receiving targets that Gordon has at his disposal, including senior wide receivers Jaylen Jones and Domenic Ortisi, both of whom have caught over 50 balls already this year.
If the passing game wasn't dominant enough for the Tigers, it is also complemented by a very stout rushing attack, led by senior running back John Wallace, who averages 142 rushing yards per game. He rushed for 275 with five TDs against Menlo School a few weeks ago.
To stop the multi-faceted Terra Nova offensive attack, the Gators will need a big performance out of their star defender, junior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (94 tackles on the season), as well as the other leaders of its defense, such as senior defensive lineman Nic Collazo (3 tackles for loss) senior defense back Noah Kawasaki (3 interceptions) and junior linebacker JR Hardy (4 caused fumbles).
"Our defense has done a great job all year," Randall said. "We know we just need to score 20 or more points in a game and our defense will stop (the opponent)."
Menlo led Terra Nova by 25-22 at halftime before losing, 48-22.
The winner of the game will have a direct path to the PAL Bay Division, even though Menlo is currently within one game of both Sacred Heart and Terra Nova in the league standings and still must play SHP on Nov. 15.
With so much at stake, as well as the history between the two teams, the game figures to be a heated affair.
"We want to want to beat them really bad," Segre said.
Segre scored four touchdowns and rushing for 129 yards in the Gators' 33-3 win over visiting Sequoia last week. Ricky Grau added 117 rushing yards and Randall completed 10 of 15 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Sacred Heart received big efforts from junior linebackers Hardy and Burr-Kirven. Hardy picked off two of the Cherokees' four pass attempts, while Burr-Kirven set the tone for the Gators on defense and special teams, racking up a number of bone-crushing tackles while finishing with 24, 17 of them solo.
In other games Friday:
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto (3-2, 4-4) will continue to play for a postseason berth when the Vikings host Los Gatos in a crucial game for both teams at 7:30 p.m. Paly is coming off a 41-0 dismantling of host Mountain View last week that saw senior QB Keller Chryst complete seven of 10 passes for 228 yards. He rushed for two touchdowns and passed for two more, one a 95-yard strike to Keesean Johnson, who caught three passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton (2-2, 5-3) will host Menlo School (2-1, 6-2) at 7 p.m. The Bears are coming off a 57-27 loss to Terra Nova while the Knights defeated host South San Francisco, 48-22.
M-A senior quarterback Brian Keare completed 21 of 32 passes for a career-high 324 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, including an 82-yard scoring strike to Isiah Nash. Keare's one-yard TD plunge got M-A to within 28-21 at halftime before turnovers proved costly for M-A in the second half.
Ryan Roberts had eight receptions for 119 yards and Nash had three for 107. Nash gained 64 yards rushing on 20 carries but the Bears managed just a total of 117 on the ground.
In South SF, Menlo senior quarterback Jack Heneghan threw a career-high seven touchdown passes and completed 27 of 50 passes for 391 yards. Will King caught nine balls for 118 yards and two TDs with Jack Marren catching four for 93 and one score. Peter Bouret gained 85 yards on six receptions, also catching a TD pass. Travis Chambers had 15 tackles for Menlo, 12 of them solo.
In the Mission Trail Athletic League, first-place Priory (6-0, 8-0) will host second place Pinewood (5-1, 6-1) in a battle for the eight-man league title at 2:30 p.m.
Priory is coming off a 36-0 romp over North Valley Baptist as senior James McDaniel rushed 31 times for 251 yards and scored twice. Priory won its 15th straight game over two seasons by holding NVB to 63 total yards.
Pinewood is coming off a 50-23 win over Palo Alto Phoenix Academy as quarterback Kevin Tracy completed 8 of 13 passes for 151 yards and five touchdowns — two each to Wilson Fields and Aidan Lucero. Tracy also ran for a TD.
In nonleague action, Gunn (1-7) will host Aptos at 7:30 p.m.