By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Rooney Pitchford had to smile. The Sacred Heart Prep senior center understands the opportunity he and his football teammates have next week.
"This is the first time since we've been in the Bay Division where we have a chance to win at least a co-championship," Pitchford said after the Gators beat host Aragon, 33-21, in a PAL Bay Division contest Saturday. "This is definitely the best time of the year."
Sacred Heart (3-1, 7-1) has arrived at this point by beating the teams it needed to beat, with the exception of Burlingame in the league opener.
The Gators travel to Pacifica to meet host Terra Nova this Friday at 7 p.m. The winner will become a co-champion at worst and, possibly, the outright champion.
Sacred Heart, the Panthers and Tigers are all knotted up at 3-1 in league play and have all clinched spots in the Central Coast Section playoffs. Now there's a chance for some bragging rights.
Burlingame plays at Menlo-Atherton at 2:45 p.m. Friday. The Bears had a lead on Terra Nova heading into the game's final three minutes.
"We're going to emphasize our defensive backs," Sacred Heart Prep senior receiver and defensive back Tomas O'Donnell said. "Terra Nova is a big passing team and that's where we need to stop them. We also need to open up our running game."
Somehow the lack of a running attack didn't bother the Gators against Aragon. John Geary had something to say about that, passing for 274 yards, completing 13 of 18 attempts and throwing for three touchdowns.
O'Donnell caught seven of those passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Colin Terndrup and Pedro Robinson also caught touchdown passes in addition to running for scores.
With Geary looking sharp, it could be that he and Terra Nova's Chris Forbes could find themselves firing strikes up and down the field.
"It's going to be a shootout," Pitchford said. "We're going to have to get all the gears going. It will probably be high-scoring, but we'll see."
The Tigers play a high-octane, always-in-a-hurry offense that features passing, passing, and yet even more passing. Terra Nova never has time for a huddle. They are always on the ball.
The Gators managed to outrush the Dons in the first half, 65 yards to 64 yards. Geary also had 12 more aerial yards than Aragon's Anthony Nichols in the first 24 minutes.
Sacred Heart led, 19-7, at the intermission and pushed that to 26-7 in the first few minutes of the third quarter.
Aragon closed to within 26-21 before a lengthy drive by the Gators produced the final margin of victory.
Sacred Heart had some success running behind Pitchford and company, especially on its final scoring drive. O'Donnell and Geary also connected on a crucial 28-yard play on third down early in the drive.
"We have size up front," Pitchford said. "I think the biggest problem is that we need to get more fired up. We take pride in our lightning offense and feel we can score when we go to the hurry-up offense."
That last bit of confidence could prove the difference in next weekend's showdown.