By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Pedro Robinson was in the stands last year when Sacred Heart Prep lost its Central Coast Section Division IV semifinal football game to neighborhood rival Menlo School. He took a leave of absence from the sport to pursue his passion for tennis.
Robinson, who played No. 1 singles for the Gators, realized he missed the camaraderie of his football teammates.
"Pedro was one of the boys when we were sophomores," Sacred Heart Prep quarterback John Geary said. "But he wanted to play tennis and that was OK with us. After the season we asked him to come back and rejoin his family."
It's been a spectacular reunion. Robinson rushed for 177 yards and scored twice as the No. 2-seeded Gators (10-2) gained some revenge with a 28-14 victory over the Knights and a date with No. 1 Carmel (11-1) for the CCS championship next Saturday at Westmont High at 3 p.m.
"I had decided earlier that summer that during the spring of my junior year I'd play tennis," Robinson said. "It didn't go the way I wanted it to go. I found out there were a lot of good tennis players out there and I kept getting beat."
Robinson has enjoyed winning, especially now that he can share with a larger "family." He's been one of the Gators' top runners over the past few games and hands out more punishment than he receives.
"It's a great honor to block for those guys," Sacred Heart Prep junior lineman Nic Kawasaki said. "We have great running backs who make us look good even if we don't get the block right."
Colin Terndrup added another 156 yards and the Gators punched a 394-yard rushing hole through the Menlo defense.
"We just kept sticking with what worked," said Geary, who also scored a touchdown and passed for another, a 25-yard scoring toss to Tomas O'Donnell.
Sacred Heart beat the Knights, 35-7, in the Valpo Bowl three weeks earlier but Menlo had other plans and took a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter, marching 63 yards in six plays, with Robert Wickers throwing a 24-yard scoring strike to Tim Benton.
Jordan Williams opened the second half in the backfield instead of taking his customary place at wide receiver. Williams went for 32 of his team-high 64 rushing yards on the drive. He also caught a four-yard pass to keep it going.
Menlo also lost a chance at a possible game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter when SH Prep's Robert Ojeda recovered on the Gators' six-yard line just three plays after Benton caught a 33-yard option pass from Carson Badger. Menlo trailed at the time, 21-14 with 10:20 left.
Three plays after Ojeda recovered the fumble, and with the Gators facing a third-and-3 at their own 13, Robinson burst through the line for a 64-yard gain that ultimately led to a one-yard TD run by Robinson and a 28-14 lead with 7:05 remaining.
The Knights just never had an answer for the devastating running attack, even if the Gators missed Tyler McCool, who suffered a hip pointer, in the second half.
"That hurt us because he makes a difference," Sacred Heart coach Pete Lavorato said. "I thought our sophomore (Ryan Gaertner) run pretty good. It's been Pedro and Colin pretty much all year though, with (Robert) Ojeda helping us."
Menlo senior running back/linebacker Beau Nichols has played through a sprained back and fractured wrist most of the year. He missed most of the third quarter but added 38 rushing yards, including a one-yard touchdown run.
"Our class has been fortunate to make it to the CCS twice," Nichols said. "There are not a lot of high school players who've had the opportunity to play at such a competitive level. I'm proud of the guys and the way we played."
Menlo lost to Carmel in last year's CCS Division IV title game, 56-35, but is the only team to beat the Padres this year and the only one in the past 24 games.
"I think it's going to be a battle," said Benton, who caught six passes for 90 yards. "Sacred Heart runs a lot and Carmel has a lot of depth on the line. It could go either way. You have to be able to contain their quarterback (Devin Pearson) because he can really run. When we played them this year our mission was to stop the quarterback. It's a toss up."
Beating Menlo in the semifinals was particularly satisfying for Sacred Heart this season because of last year's result. As for Carmel, which beat Half Moon Bay, 42-35, on Friday?
"We know that it doesn't matter if Menlo beat them or not," Geary said. "We have to play our game and not get outside our limits."