The Sacred Heart Prep football team played in the CIF Division III State Championship game last season. Yet, the 2014 campaign has offered something new to the program.
First, there was the Gators' 10-0 run through the regular season. That had never been accomplished before. Included in that perfect record was a 5-0 finish and the team's first-ever title in the PAL Bay Division.
All that added to an automatic berth into the Central Coast Coast Open Division playoffs, yet another first for the SHP team. And, to top it all off, the Gators received the No. 1 seed -- another first, of course.
"It's an honor," SHP head coach Pete Lavorato said of receiving the No. 1 seed.
Sacred Heart Prep will take its 10-0 record into first-round action this Saturday against No. 8 Oak Grove (7-3) at 1 p.m.
That No. 1 seed, based on having the most power points among the five league champions that automatically qualified for the Open Division, moved the Gators ahead of such powerhouses as No. 4 Serra (7-3) and No. 5 Los Gatos (8-2), both in SHP's side of the bracket.
The Padres and Wildcats will meet at the same time on Saturday. The SHP-Oak Grove winner and Serra-Los Gatos winner will meet in the semifinals.
The top half of the bracket features No. 2 Milpitas (10-0), No. 3 Palma (9-1), No. 6 Valley Christian (8-2) and No. 7 Bellarmine (8-2).
A loss means a trip to the consolation bracket the following weekend. A consolation champ will be crowned on either Dec. 5 or 6, along with the division champ and third-place winner.
Should SHP somehow finish 13-0 and win the Open Division, chances are slim to none there will be another game.
According to Mitch Stephens of MaxPreps, a CCS title will put the Gators into the Division I regional pool to be selected. But, the Sac Joaquin Section has two teams -- Folsom and Grant (in two different divisions) -- that are nationally ranked. As long as they win their section, they'll be picked for the Division I game.
Folsom plays in D-I and Grant plays in D-II, but are both D-I schools by CIF standards. SHP is a D-III school and should drop naturally into the D-II regional final. But, CCS has a by-law prohibiting such.
"So, if SHP does pull it off, is 13-0 and the defending NorCal D-III champ, too bad," said Stephens. "They'll just being going home to start hoop season."
However, if Folsom or Grant (both 11-0) lose, then the Gators most likely would get to play in the D-I regional final. But, nothing is guaranteed.
Quite obviously, this trip to the postseason is unlike any other for Sacred Heart Prep, which for the first time will get a chance to test itself against what is considered the best of the best.
The Gators head to the postseason averaging 33.4 points per game, 248 yards rushing and 164 yards rushing. SHP has been held to under 31 points only twice this season.
Sacred Heart Prep is three wins away from tying the school record of 13 from last season and are assured of having no more than two losses for the fifth time over a seven-year period. The Gators went 13-2 last season, 12-1 in '12, 11-2 in '10 and 11-1-1 in '08.
Senior two-way player Ben Burr-Kirven, who missed the first five games of the year with a leg injury, still has 475 rushing yards and an average of 11.9 yards per carry. Remarkably, he has scored 12 touchdowns and is averaging 15 tackles a game on a team-leading 75 stops.
His return has helped the Gators balance their offense, which shifted toward passing more when he was absent. Junior quarterback Mason Randall stepped up during that time and now has completed 88 of 139 for 1,643 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also has thrown 15 interceptions. Senior Riley Tinsley leads the team in rushing with 651 yards.
SHP, last year's CCS Division IV champ, has beaten six CCS playoff teams this season, including No. 1 seeds Salinas (D-1) and King's Academy (D-4).
Sacred Heart Prep is one of only two local teams to qualify for the postseason. Perhaps as surprising as SHP getting the No. 1 seed was Menlo-Atherton advancing to the Division I playoffs despite a 3-7 record.
M-A is the No. 8 seed in Division I and will play at No. 1 Salinas (6-4) on Friday at 7 p.m.