SHP's 13-0 football season is certainly worth celebrating


Sacred Heart Prep football coach Pete Lavorato was in need of some holiday cheer earlier this week and headed over to a small Christmas party on campus to perhaps find it.

Every year is always a letdown," said Lavorato. "You work and train so hard and play all your games and then it stops."

Unlike any other year in program history, however, the Gators' season came to an end last Friday in a victory at the highest level -- a 14-0 triumph over Bellarmine in the Central Coast Section Open Division championship game at San Jose City College.

Top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep finished 13-0 and remained alive to play at least one more game. Two days later, however, the Gators' season was officially over when they were not selected to play nationally ranked Folsom in a NorCal Division I Regional Bowl Game.

And thus, Lavorato's letdown.

"There was no closure," Lavorato said. "We were this close to playing one of the best teams in the country."

But, all is not lost.

"We're going to have a party in January to celebrate the season," Lavorato said. "Then I'll feel better."

Sacred Heart Prep was left out of the NorCal playoffs for the second time in three years, based on a vote of CIF commissioners who picked Grant of Sacramento (14-0) to face Folsom (14-0) in the in the Division I regional final on Friday at Sacramento State.

Two years ago, the Gators finished 12-1. Being left out was easier to reconcile that season. This time, after finishing 13-0, it wasn't.

"I have no sour grapes and I don't feel like I've been wronged," Lavorato said. "But, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. We would have liked to have kept playing."

Those chances were slim, even after winning the CCS Open Division, because the CIF voted last August to eliminate the Open Division regional bowl after perennial power De La Salle won two straight years with blowouts. The top NorCal Open Division team now advances directly to the state finals.

Had that bowl not been eliminated, Folsom would have played De La Salle this weekend and, most likely, Sacred Heart Prep would have met Grant in the NorCal Division I title game -- the winner going to the state championship contest.

The consensus of most of the SHP players, nine of whom already have moved on to winter sports, was that they were deserving of at least one more game.

"It's definitely disappointing," said senior Ben Burr-Kirven, who rushed for 95 yards and scored both touchdowns against Bellarmine. "But, it's one of those things; you have to let it go."

Added senior defensive back Mitch Martella, who had a fourth-quarter interception to help end Bellarmine's hopes: "When we didn't get picked, I was pretty disappointed. It definitely stung a little. I was definitely happy to have the opportunity to play in the Open Division, but after going 13-0, it's hard to have someone tell you you can't play."

Many of the players hung out on campus on Sunday with the coaches, awaiting word on the possible regional bowl berth.

"We were looking forward to getting our name chosen," said senior defensive back John Van Sweden, who also had a fourth-quarter interception against the Bells.

That, of course, didn't happen as unbeaten Grant of Sacramento was selected and the Gators were left with only the pride of having an undefeated season.

"Our success has never happened before," Van Sweden said.

Added Burr-Kirven: "It's definitely nice to go out with a win. (But) I'd rather gone on. It's kind of tough to be told your season is over."

But what a season it was.

SHP beat three teams in the CCS playoffs that rank No. 2 (Los Gatos, 82 games), No. 3 (Oak Grove, 76 games) and No. 4 (Bellarmine, 74 games) as the most accomplished teams in section playoff history. Only St. Francis, with 101 games, has played in more.

This season also saw the Gators become the most successful CCS football team over the past three years with a 38-3 record. Milpitas is second at 32-7 while Bellarmine (29-9), Los Gatos (28-11), St. Francis (26-13) and Oak Grove (22-12) trail.

The CCS Open Division title was also SHP's third straight section crown, the most of any section team during that time.

Perhaps most important, this season showed doubters that a school with only 603 students could compete the elite schools like Bellarmine (3,278 students), Oak Grove (1,920) and Los Gatos (1,820).

"To get a chance to prove ourselves, as a small school, sets a precedent for Sacred Heart Prep teams in years to come," said senior linebacker Cole March. "Maybe they'll get an opportunity to move on."

Added Van Sweden: "People didn't think we could play at the highest level with the teams from the WCAL."

Sacred Heart Prep, however, did just that while becoming the smallest school in CCS history to win at on the section's biggest stage.

"With these guys, we walk on the field and compete with anybody," said Lavorato. "We can compete; we've proven that."

Sacred Heart Prep set the table for this season by reaching last year's CIF Division III state finals, losing there to Corona del Mar.

"Winning the Open (Division) is more enjoyable than losing state," said Burr-Kirven.

Added Lavorato: "I feel like this was a greater accomplishment than last year . . . If anyone told me 6-7 years ago that we'd be playing Bellarmine in the Open Division finals, I wouldn't have believed it."

That mindset, however, changed quickly.

"Coming into this season, I don't think anyone came in thinking we weren't going to win every game, go back to state and finish 15-0," said Burr-Kirven. "After we beat Los Gatos it was like, 'we got it.' There was never a doubt in my mind that we wouldn't beat Bellarmine.

"I would have liked to win state but, everything we could do we did to the best of our abilities."

Added March: "This was like the perfect ending to the perfect story."

The Gators, however, will never know what another playoff chapter would have brought.

"I don't think we'd have a problem hanging with Folsom," Burr-Kirven said. "I would have love to have seen what our coaches would have come up with. But, you can't let that eat you up."

"It's bittersweet, I suppose," said Lavorato. "It was a great year. How could you be upset after going 13-0? We won the Open. I think we are the best team in the CCS. I can't say enough good things about our coaching staff and our kids and how wonderful they were and are.

"This was a special year. This might not happen again."

(Note: Folsom (15-0) advanced to the CIF Division I State Championship Bowl Game with a 52-21 pasting of Grant (14-1) on Friday night at Sacramento State)

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Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 16, 2014 at 12:01 pm

For the record, you give more coverage to how the coach of a private school in Menlo Park feels about not being invited to play in the post season than you give the entire 12 game season of Gunn of Palo Alto football. There are ten times more Palo Altans who follow Gunn football even in a losing season than live in Palo Alto and root for Sacred Heart.

This is a good story, but it should not displace Gunn.

The fact that there are no comments five days after publishing reinforces my point.

Congrats to Sacred Heart on your championship season.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 24, 2014 at 9:06 am

Yes. Great season for Sacred Heart Prep football. They might have beaten Grant but would have been mauled by Folsom or De La Salle which finished in the top five in the entire country. The most interesting story is that the CCS scheduled consolation games ( evidently to make more money for the organization) and the De LA Salle football graduate who served as head coach for last year's CCS open division champion, Serra of San Mateo, forfeited the final consolation bracket game rather than play Milpitas and risk INJURIES for no glory. Injuries. That is what newspapers should report - even if the subject might reduce the size of sports sections.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 24, 2014 at 9:28 am

By the way. Gunn footballers played a weak schedule and finished 1-9. Maybe the Gunn player who posted could give us the inside scoop on injuries. How many Gunn varsity players were injured badly enough to miss a practice and how many does he think sustained permanent injuries? If he is suffering from concussions and has no clue, oh well, maybe we have seen his last post.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 24, 2014 at 9:35 am

The OP is an adult. He ran for city council this year.

No need to put down Gunn or get personal.

Like this comment
Posted by Culture of violence
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Dec 24, 2014 at 11:07 am

I know this has been said before, but it needs to be repeated.
Why does a civilized community praise this institutionalized violence?
Watching oversized, bloated, grown men run around attacking one another to capture imaginary territory is truly strange.
For years there was the pretense that there was no harm until finally admitting they are often damaging their brains.
You have only to read the newspapers to know that violence is very much part of professional football and it spills over into the real world, beating up women and children.

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 25, 2014 at 10:25 am

The last comment contends that football injures players and teaches them violence. It also prepares some young men to join the military and put their "boots on the ground" in foreign lands. If troops are sent to protect corporate interests, soldiers are sacrificed unjustifiably. But what about taking on the IS terrorists in the Middle East? Let's hear from Sacred Heart Prep football players. Are you going to join the United States military and be hailed as real hero's in the years ahead? Or are you going to just pretend to be heroic playing a game called football?

1 person likes this
Posted by I didn't know that
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 25, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Wow - this is crazy. The story was about a school with 300 boys that played a successful football season ending with a victory over Bellarmine, a school with 1,600 boys. The first comment was from Mark Weiss who complained that Gunn High school was unjustly overlooked in coverage. What? Really? Unless you had a son on the team no one from San Mateo to Los Altos cares about a 1-9 Gunn squad.

Then "Tom" chimes in and says that SHP would have been "mauled" by Folsom. Thus my name " I didn't know that" Many folks gave SHP no chance in the open division at all. The fact that they won 3 games in the open division and captured the title is lost on Tom. He somehow knows the outcome of high school football games before they or played. "tom" then jumps up on his soapbox and discusses injuries using coach Walsh's decision to forfeit their game against Milpitas as a sort of badge of courage. Whatever your feelings about the new consolation brackets and coach Walsh's decision it's wrong to join a playoff competition hoping to win and then taking your ball and going home when the results don't go your way. It just is.

"Tom" then got sort of personal and I won't comment on that.

Next we have Crescent Park Dad with a reference to OP. I don't know what that refers to so I will refrain from comment on CPD too.

Close to the end we have "Culture of Violence" who has a clear hatred of Football. I immediately am reminded of the famous quote " the battles of Britain are won on the playing fields of Eton" or one of the variations. Yes, football is a physical game. I think the lessons learned on the High School football field during practice and games trump the injury factor by a good margin. Would love to see "culture of violence's" supporting statistics on the beating of women and children by NFL players as compared to the general population but I'm betting those won't be presented.

Finally there is "Frank" with his ridiculous 'throw down' to a group of young boys challenging them to join the US Military to justify the press given them for success on the athletic field. It's as if the boys playing High School sports are in control of the press and the coverage the teams receive. Don't know what to say about that "Frank" but I will ask this, are you a veteran? Do you have children that have served? If so you should be proud. Local high school athletes may serve too but they shouldn't be pressured to do so because their sports team were successful

Merry Christmas everyone - the best strategy is to pat the winning teams on the back while continuing to support all the other athletes.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 26, 2014 at 9:38 am

OP = original poster

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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