Undefeated McClymonds made it to the Division III-A regional bowl game on the strength of its defense, having allowed just 20 points total in its last seven games. Sacred Heart Prep exceeded that total in the first quarter.
Sporting a balanced, efficient offense, the Gators scored touchdowns on all six first-half possessions, including three in the first quarter, and cruised to a 56-20 win at Independence High in San Jose.
After losing two of its first three games, SHP (11-3) will travel to the SoCal region to face Rancho Bernardo (12-2) in the division state championship game Saturday night in San Diego at 6 p.m.
"I'm very excited and humbled and honored to represent the PAL in the California state championship game," SHP coach Pete Lavorato said. "I'm just over the moon."
Senior Mason Randall completed 9 of 16 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns -- all in the first half -- while cousins Isoa Moimoi (24 carries for 163 yards) and Lapitu Mahoni (16 carries for 94 yards and three touchdowns) set the pace on the ground.
The Gators scored in the final minute last weekend to beat Riordan in the CCS Open Division III championship game, but didn't need any theatrics this time.
"Right from the start we knew we could run on them and exploit their front seven, and once they started to shut down our run we opened it up and threw the ball a little bit," said senior tight end/linebacker Andrew Daschbach, who had 106 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions.
Meanwhile, the Gators' defense allowed a touchdown in three plays on McClymonds' opening possession, but then bottled up the speedy team from Oakland after that. The Warriors' (12-1) other touchdowns came on an 85-yard kickoff return and a tipped pass.
"We started a little bit slow, but after that we were exceptional," Lavorato said. "One thing that is a mark of our team is that we're disciplined, and it really showed on defense."
The game was a microcosm of the season for a defensive unit that needed to break in nine new starters and started slowly, but has improved each week. David Peterson led the defense with 10 tackles (seven solo) while Brian O'Kelly had nine tackles plus a fumble recovery and Brendan Semien finished with seven. SHP, however, played without injured Cameron Dulsky.
SHP is now back in the state title game for the second time in three years, having lost to Corona del Mar, 27-15, in 2013. Both Randall and Daschbach were starters that season.
"I was naive at that time, and having all that success my sophomore year I thought the road wasn't that hard," Daschbach said. "Coming back this year really has completely changed my perspective on being able to make it this far because we've been through so much adversity as a team and fought through three tough losses . . . Hopefully we'll be able to close it out right."