Leading up to the Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton football team’s CIF Northern California Division III championship game against El Cerrito High School last week, Gators coach Pete Lavorato believed it was a dream come true to even play on such a big stage.
Sacred Heart Prep, despite being thought of as heavy underdogs, dismantled El Cerrito on Saturday, racking up 311 rushing yards in a 42-7 rout to claim the NorCal title.
The win advanced SHP to a game Lavorato thought would take a “double miracle” to get to: the school’s first state championship game.
SHP (13-1), with an enrollment of just 600 students, will tangle with Corona del Mar of Newport Beach (15-0) on Saturday at noon at the StubHub Center in Carson for the Division III state title. It marks the first time a team from San Mateo County will be playing in a state football championship since the games were implemented in 2006.
A week after saying he was going to introduce his team to the old biblical story of “David vs. Goliath,” the humble Lavorato admitted that he’ll have to change his tact after watching his Gators hold the explosive Gauchos to seven points last week — 35 below their season average.
“Honestly, I just watched the game [again], and I ended up coming away more impressed with the way we played against [El Cerrito],” Lavorato said. “You walk around campus and that’s all the kids are talking about, they are over the moon right now, and it’s just great.”
SHP will surely be the underdogs against Corona del Mar, which has won 25 straight games.
Corona del Mar advanced to the state championship by beating Nordhoff of Ojai 24-8 in the Division III Southern California championship.
The Sea Kings feature a balanced offensive attack, with junior running back Cole Martin (1,718 yards and 21 touchdowns) and sophomore running back Anthony Battista (984 yards) leading the ground game.
Senior quarterback Luke Napolitano has thrown for 2,752 yards this season, while accumulating 35 total touchdowns (23 passing, 12 rushing).
Defensively, Corona del Mar is led by senior linebacker Alex Moore, who leads the team with 10½ sacks. The Sea Kings have recorded four shutouts this season, while limiting opponents to 9.3 points per game.
“They’re not as big as El Cerrito, but they move better and they have a number of weapons they can use,” Lavorato said. “They’re a really good balanced offense, and their defense is tenacious and causes problems by getting up field and breaking your rhythm. They’re good and athletic.”
Senior running back Andrew Segre is expected to be the bell cow for the Gators, but he’ll get help from junior running back Ben Burr-Kirven, who rushed for a team-high 170 yards and four touchdowns against El Cerrito.
Despite how daunting the task of beating a team that hasn’t lost a game since September of 2012 is, SHP won’t be intimidated, nor will it walk in overconfident. The Gators will march into the state championship like they’ve marched into every game this season — humble and disciplined.
“Thirteen years ago, we didn’t even have a football program and we’re just really humbled by what we’ve done as a program,” Lavorato said. “This is pretty neat and we’re very thankful.”
Sacred Heart Prep vs. Corona del Mar
WHAT: CIF Division III state football championship
WHEN: Saturday, noon
WHERE: StubHub Center, Carson
TV: Comcast SportsNet California