The greatest football season in Sacred Heart Prep history was achieved on Friday night as the top-seeded Gators defeated No. 7 Bellarmine, 14-0, in the championship game of the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs at San Jose City College.
The Gators most likely finished the year at a perfect 13-0 while the Bells finished their season at 10-3. The 13 wins ties the program record set last year when the Gators finished 13-2, losing in the CIF Division III state championship finale.
"We're a good football team," said head coach Pete Lavorato. "We can line up and play, not everybody, but we can play with most teams and be competitive and that's what winning the Open Division says about our team."
"It's about the love we have for each other," said senior running back Riley Tinsley. "It's about how close we are and the bonds we've made and how close we've become in these four years. I always feel like everyone's got my back -- if you play like that you can't lose."
In the third quarter senior Ben Burr-Kirven bulldozed his way and jumped over defenders into the endzone for a three-yard touchdown and the first lead of the game for the Gators.
"We ran the same place twice in a row," said Burr-Kirven, who finished with 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. He has 19 touchdowns in only eight games this season, after missing five games to an injury. "I knew they were going to be a little stingier. When I got by the line I saw the middle back was a little low so I thought that was the natural thing to do."
The first quarter started off slow for both teams as no team scored. The Gators made it into the redzone but couldn't put any points on the board and was forced to turn the ball over. The Bells gained just 26 yards in three drives.
In the second quarter the Bells attempted a 26-yard field goal but kicker Cole Bunce missed wide right and the score remained 0-0. The clock was down to two seconds in the fourth quarter for Sacred Heart and the Gators attempted a field goal from 38 yards away, but Derek Chou missed wide left and both teams were held scoreless through the first half.
On the Gators' third drive of the third quarter, quarterback Randall Mason found junior wide receiver Nick O'Donnell for a catch where he laid out and made a spectacular diving catch for 23 yards. The catch got the crowd going and set the tone for the rest of the drive.
"I think Mason threw it a little inside," said O'Donnell, who finished with 113 receiving yards. "The corner was right there, but I was able to just dive and reach around him."
Burr-Kirven was clutch again for Sacred Heart on the same drive as he fought his way in for another touchdown putting the Gators up 14-0.
Bellarmine tried to make any sort of comeback they could, late in the fourth quarter. Junior quarterback Troy Martig was looking for Kyle Macauley, but he threw it just short and Mitchell Martella intercepted Martig. Sacred Heart took over with 3:20 left in the game. Earlier in the quarter, SHP's John Van Sweden also had an interception with 5:35 left. Cole March led the SHP defense with 10 tackles while Burr-Kirven added nine and Cam Chapman seven.
"My deal is this," said Lavorato. "To me this is great and exciting but the greater thing is how much these guys love each other, how much the coaches love each other and the kids."
"I thought I was going to be OK at the end of the game," said Burr-Kirven. "It was something special. This is the highest achievement in the bay area that you can get. There's nothing better than this."
During its march through the CCS playoffs, Sacred Heart Prep defeated Oak Grove, Los Gatos and then the Bells -- three teams that now have a combined CCS playoff record of 154-78-1. The Gators, meanwhile, improved to 16-3 all-time in the section playoffs. SHP is 76-14-1 since joining the CCS in 2008 and Lavorato improved to 109-32-1 in his 12th season with SHP. The Gators have gone 26-2 over the past two seasons, winning a pair of CCS titles.
"This was it for us, this was our final moment, pretty much," SHP senior Wyatt Welch said. "We had to go out with a bang. We're the best class to come through Sacred Heart, and we know that. So we weren't going to let anyone take anything away from us."
Despite its historic season, the Gators may have played their final game of 2014. SHP needed St. Mary's (Stockton to defeat unbeaten Grant in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II game on Friday in order to move into the CIF Division I Regional Bowl Game against unbeaten Folsom. Grant, however, rallied on Friday to beat St. Mary's, 21-14, and likely will be pitted against Folsom when the regional bowls are decided on Sunday.