As much as the rivalry, venue and circumstances of the Central Coast Section Division III football championship between Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Ignatius on Saturday means to San Francisco, what may be most exciting is that both teams are playing their best football of the season.
The two schools have gone on extended road trips in the first two rounds of the playoffs and have come away with an opportunity to play in the first high school football game in AT&T Park’s history.
St. Ignatius, as the seventh seed in the eight-team tournament, came from behind to upset second-seeded Aptos, then stunned tournament favorite Valley Christian of San Jose on Saturday. Sacred Heart, as the fifth seed, took down Monterey in the first round and then handled top-seeded Christopher of Gilroy in the semifinals.
“At this point in the season, for teams to make the championship game, you have to be playing your best football,” St. Ignatius coach John Regalia said. “There’s no question [Sacred Heart] is playing very well right now, and I’d like to think we’re doing some things well also.”
Both offenses have been stellar in the playoffs, led by Sacred Heart running back Valentino Miles and St. Ignatius quarterback Jack Stinn.
Miles scored all six touchdowns for the Irish against Christopher last week and totaled 276 yards from scrimmage.
“He’s playing motivated and that’s exciting,” Sacred Heart coach John Lee said. “He’s in a comfort zone, but I don’t want him to get too comfortable. This game is going to come down to who has the last bullet in the gun.”
The standout senior also ran for more than 310 yards and two TDs in Sacred Heart’s regular-season win over the Wildcats.
“Miles is a very good running back and [Jack] Harrington is a very good quarterback in that system,” Regalia said.
Stinn broke out for 328 yards and three touchdowns in St. Ignatius’ stunning, last-minute win over Valley Christian, but the first meeting against Sacred Heart was undoubtedly the low-point of his season.
The left-handed junior threw for 181 yards against the Irish, but did so on 11-of-34 passing and was under constant pressure by the Sacred Heart defense. And although the first meeting between the two teams should not be sold short, Sacred Heart’s focus is on the finale.
“For most of these seniors, they’ll never play in another competitive football game,” Lee said. “It is a great memory, what happened on Oct. 21, but that’s gone. We want to create fantastic memories on Dec. 3. If we come in with an attitude that they’ll lay down for us, we’ll be sadly mistaken.”
M-A kicker Sam Falkenheagen could also play a factor as six of his eight kickoffs last week resulted in touchbacks.
Serra has not lost since dropping a 21-14 contest to West Catholic Athletic League champion Bellarmine on Oct. 28. Bellarmine faces Palo Alto in the CCS Open Division title game on Friday.
M-A has only played one WCAL team this season and it ended in a 24-7 loss against Saint Ignatius on Sept. 16.
It is Serra’s first game against a Peninsula Athletic League team since 2006.
Preps sports coverage provided in partnership by The San Francisco Examiner and www.SanFranPreps.com
CCS DIVISION III CHAMPIONSHIP
St. Ignatius (5-6-1) vs. SHC (7-5)
WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: AT&T Park
TICKETS: $10 per person
REGULAR SEASON: Sacred Heart Cathedral defeated St. Ignatius 38-14 on Oct. 21
ROAD TO TITLE GAME: Sacred Heart defeated Monterey 37-14 and Christopher 42-23 en route to title game; St. Ignatius defeated Aptos 35-31 and Valley Christian 43-42 on way to championship game