Down by a touchdown to St. Ignatius at halftime, Sacred Heart Prep needed a boost, and Tevita Moimoi gave it to them.
Moimoi, held to 37 first-half yards rushing, exhorted his teammates: “We’re a second-half team,” he yelled. “This game isn’t over. We play four quarters, not two. We need a second-half mentality!”
Moimoi led by example, churning out 112 bone-crushing second-half yards and scored the winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 1:16 left in a nonleague contest that felt like much more than that to the Gators.
Sacred Heart Prep rallied to a 28-21 home victory on Saturday over a team from the powerful West Catholic Athletic League, and did so with a series of big plays that turned the game and momentum.
Moimoi finished with 149 yards rushing on 29 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Sacred Heart Prep (2-0) discovered it can finish games. It can wear down an opponent and feed off its own energy to produce when it needs to. A coach or team doesn’t know what a team is capable of until faced with such adversity. Now they know.
St. Ignatius (1-1) had pulled in front in a back-and-forth game with a short pass on the first play of the fourth quarter to go up 21-14. SHP had twice tied the game, but never led, and SI quarterback Teddy Buchanan was in rhythm.
When the Wildcats recovered a muffed catch on a pooched kickoff, they were in position to take control. But SI never got the chance. On third-and-long, SHP safety Cav Williams stepped in front of a pass down the middle. The momentum completely shifted. Buchanan, who had been 15-of-17 through that touchdown, completed only one of his final 10 passes, with two interceptions, including Wilson Weisel’s on SI’s last-gasp attempt for a tying score.
SHP Mark Grieb refused to put more emphasis on the victory than a simple ‘W’, even as his players jumped up and down in jubilation.
“It means we’re 2-0,” he said. “I’m not going to read a lot into that. We have a good football team.”
Grieb said there was nothing he didn’t know about his first-year starting quarterback, junior Teddy Purcell. But everyone learned something. He looks like a winner.
On the crucial drive after Williams’ interception, Purcell made several big plays, hitting Bryant Gavallo for 9 yards on third-and-4, finding tight end J.P. Frimel for 10 on third-and-9, and Frimel again, in the right flat for an 8-yard TD that tied the score, 21-21, with 5:49 left.
Purcell completed 11-of-14 for 113 yards and no interceptions and was effective with his legs, on runs and rollouts.
“I don’t think I learned anything,” Grieb said. “I knew all those things. I know he’s smart. I know that he’s disciplined. I know that he’s accurate. And I know that he’s a tough competitor. All those things are true. We got a good one. He’s a special player.”
The other side of that drive were the plays of Frimel. The big third-down catch on the tying drive was a middle screen that wouldn’t have succeeded without Frimel, a two-way player, burying his head and driving into tacklers for the necessary yardage.
“I don’t think J.P. gets nearly enough credit for what he brings to this football team,” Grieb said. “He does everything you need. I obviously have a ton of trust in him. He deserves every bit of credit that he gets because he’s a phenomenal person and a phenomenal football player. He was awesome.”
And what about Moimoi? With only one run of more than four yards in the first half, Moimoi carried the load in the second, ripping off gains of 20, 11, 9, 33, and 8 yards. But it was his short runs, his tough yards, his ability to read blocks, and change direction into a different gap … those were the runs on which Sacred Heart Prep depended.
On the winning drive, Moimoi carried on seven of nine plays, including the last five. He gained 65 of the Gators’ 77 yards.
“There’s no quit in him,” Grieb said. “It’s the way he approaches the game. It’s his heart and all those things, that make him an awesome leader and an awesome player.”
The Gator offensive line of left tackle Nick Stalder, left guard Cole Gurtner, center Peter Desler, right guard Sam Maxwell, right tackle Braden Fitzgerald, and tight end Frimel did their job of wearing down the Wildcat defense. But it took a physical smart back like Moimoi to do the dirty work.
“I have 100 percent faith in Tevita,”fullback Tatafu Mahoni said. “I trust that if I make my block, he will get the job done.
“You can’t tackle him with one person. If you try to arm-tackle him, it’s not going to work.”
Another perspective: “He’s a grinder,” receiver Dante Cacchione said. “We say it every week – he wants to go 100 percent in the first quarter and the fourth quarter and the same speed the whole game.”
Moimoi said his production was in lockstep with his teammates. Plays like a 40-yard reverse by Cacchione, with help from a Purcell block, that led to a second-quarter touchdown were the types of plays he gained confidence from.
“I can’t do it without every person on the field,” Moimoi said. “I just want to give it all to them, and they give it all to me, and I act upon it. I feed off their energy.”