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Sacred Heart Cathedral eliminated with gut-wrenching loss

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Sami Nazzal looks out at the field field after Sacred Heart Cathedral’s game. (Ethan Kassel/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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SAN FRANCISCO — Will Irons and Aréon Mitchell put up brilliant performances, but Sacred Heart Cathedral’s first playoff appearance in six seasons was short-lived as the Fightin’ Irish fell to visiting Live Oak of Morgan Hill, 28-21.

Irons threw for 422 yards, 219 of which were to Mitchell, but the Irish allowed the go-ahead touchdown on a ten-yard run by Cole Davis with 1:03 left on Friday night at Kezar Stadium in a CCS Open Division III Quarterfinal.

Sacred Heart Cathedral (6-5) had multiple chances to break the game open in a first half where they outgained the visiting Acorns 393-128, but a pair of red zone interceptions and two fourth-down stops left the door open for Live Oak to take control of the game in the second half.

Still, Barry McLaughlin’s first year as head coach was full of positives.

“We’re definitely disappointed right now, but we did a lot of good things,” said McLaughlin. “We finished fourth in the league and were an automatic qualifier. This one stinks, but a lot of kids did a lot of good things and we’ll move forward. This will be a good group to celebrate.”

Not only was this senior-heavy team the first to lead SHC to the playoffs since 2011, it’s also the first since 2011 to beat both St. Ignatius and Riordan.

“We changed the culture in practice,” said Irons. “Things were more disciplined and we cared about one another.”

After a scoreless first quarter, in which the Irish were thwarted by a red zone interception and a turnover on downs, SHC struck first on a 90-yard touchdown pass from Irons to Mitchell, who broke free from a defender after making the catch at midfield. After gaining just one yard on their first three drives, Live Oak (7-4) responded on the ensuing possession and pinned the Irish at their own 7 on the following kickoff, but Irons connected with LeVar Watkins Jr. on a 93-yard touchdown, an almost identical play to Mitchell’s touchdown.

The fourth-seeded Fightin’ Irish had a chance to open up a two-score lead heading into halftime, but another red-zone interception kept the score at 14-7 heading into the break.

Davis, who had both interceptions, took over in the second half for the visitors, tying the game on the opening drive of the third quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run.

The Irish once again reclaimed the lead less than two minutes later on Irons’ third touchdown pass of the night, a 19-yard strike to Mitchell on third down. However, it was the last time SHC would score, and, in turn, the final career touchdown for the senior QB and receiver.

SHC couldn’t capitalize on Davis’ one blemish on the night, a red zone fumble late in the third. As brilliant as Irons was, the Irish struggled to run the ball, gaining just 16 rushing yards in the second half.

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