SAN DIEGO -- For the second time in three seasons, Sacred Heart Prep reached the state championship football game.
Unfortunately for the Gators, they also came up short for the second time as Rancho Bernardo handed SHP a 35-14 loss in the CIF Division III-A state championship game at Rancho Bernardo on Saturday.
"This one hurts just as much or even more than the last one," said Gators senior Andrew Daschbach, who was a starter on the SHP team that lost to Corona del Mar in the 2013 title game. "I'm just honored to get a chance to play in this game, and it's a great Rancho Bernardo team. So, a lot of respect for those guys over there. But this one hurts as much as any of them."
Despite the loss, which ended a seven-game win streak, SHP coach Pete Lavorato deemed his team's season a success.
"We won a CCS championship for the first time in Open Division III, and we beat some great teams doing that," Lavorato said. "We started the season 1-2 and came back and now we're 11-4. We won the NorCals and made it to the state championship game. There's nothing to be ashamed of."
The Gators had averaged nearly 250 yards per game on the ground this season, but the San Diego Section Division II champion Broncos (13-2) held the SHP running game to 119 yards on 34 carries.
Junior Isoa Moimoi led the way with 59 yards on 15 carries, and senior Lapitu Mahoni ran for 35 yards on 14 rushes. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, with Mahoni finishing with 1,687 and Moimoi 1,109.
"I'll have to look at the tape," Lavorato said. "Maybe we got away from our running game a little too soon."
Lavorato credited the Broncos' defense for his team's struggles.
"The other team played really well," Lavorato said. "They were flying to the football. They were just tough. Instead of making six or seven yards, we were only making two or three yards a carry."
With their running game scuffling, the Gators were unable to sustain any long drives.
Trailing 14-0, they went 55 yards in the final 37 seconds of the second quarter and got on the board with a 21-yard TD pass from senior Mason Randall to Daschbach as time expired in the half.
SHP then received the second-half kickoff but managed only one first down before punting.
"That (touchdown) was a big play to get us momentum," Randall said. "I thought we were going to come out after halftime and roll down the field and score. It didn't work out, but credit Rancho Bernardo for battling and playing a great game."
After Rancho Bernardo scored to take a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter, the Gators responded with a one-play drive. Randall scrambled away from the rush and hit Daschbach, who finished with seven catches for 166 yards and two scores, for a 76-yard TD, cutting the lead to seven again.
But, SHP would get no closer as its next four drives ended with a punt, a failed fourth-down play and a pair of turnovers. Rancho Bernardo took advantage and put the game away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Randall threw for 237 yards and two scores with two interceptions. He finished the season with 2,883 yards and 28 touchdown passes.
"He's a great athlete. He's a great quarterback. He's a great kid," Lavorato said of his signal caller. "All of the above. He's led us to two state championship games, three CCS championships. What else can you say. The kid's great."
Rancho Bernardo's offense was led by junior running back Milan Grice, who ran for a game-high 127 yards and two touchdowns, and junior quarterback Mark Salazar, who was nearly perfect, completing 12 of 14 throws for 186 yards and two scores.
Daschbach had 10 tackles to lead the defense, with Zane Elsafy adding eight.
Randall was sporting a beard because he hadn't shaved since the Gators' last loss eight games ago, thinking his facial hair brought good luck.
"I brought a razor," Randall said. "I thought it was going to be a happy shave, but it's going to be a little bit of a sad shave."