Serra seizes control behind Wilson’s TD return

Erich Wilson returned a kickoff for a touchdown to increase Serra’s lead to two scores in the third quarter. (Doug Ko/Special to The Examiner)Erich Wilson returned a kickoff for a touchdown to increase Serra’s lead to two scores in the third quarter. (Doug Ko/Special to The Examiner)

Even after a dismal first half, Sacred Heart Cathedral seized momentum on the road against Serra when the Irish cut the Padres’ lead to 20-14 late in the third quarter.

Seconds later, Serra superstar Erich Wilson ripped the momentum back, and the Padres cruised to a 35-14 West Catholic Athletic League football win.

Wilson took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to set a school record with 39 career touchdowns, then scored again on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter to put the Irish away.

“We had the emotional swing on our side, then he runs the kickoff back and that totally took the wind out of our sails,” said Sacred Heart coach John Lee.

Wilson finished with a game-high 162 yards on 22 carries and the Padres (7-2, 4-2) totaled 305 yards on the ground. The Sacred Heart defense actually did well limiting big plays and forced three turnovers, but the Padres dominated time of possession and ball control with 62 plays, compared to Sacred Heart’s 39.

“It’s who we are. We have to run the ball to win,” said Serra coach Patrick Walsh. “We have great runners and I’m really proud of the offensive line. We need to limit the mistakes, but in the WCAL, every win is a good one.”

The Irish (5-4, 2-4) got back into the game when Lee replaced senior starting quarterback Jack Harrington, who did not complete a pass in the game, with junior Jerry Peralta late in the third quarter.

Peralta immediately led the Irish on a four-play, 73-yard scoring drive, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run from Valentino Miles. Then, after the Irish recovered a Serra fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Peralta scrambled for a 20-yard score with 31 seconds remaining in the quarter.

“It wasn’t that tough to make the decision [to pull Harrington],” Lee said. “Jerry is a fiery guy and the team responds to him. I have to do what’s best for 35 players, not just one player, and Jerry gave us that spark.”

Peralta threw for 56 yards and an had an interception on 2-of-5 passing, but the Irish could not rally from a poor offensive effort in the first half. Sacred Heart only gained 25 yards in the first half on just 16 plays and had only one first down, which came off a Serra defensive penalty. Still, the Irish only trailed 13-0 at the break.

“I was shocked,” Lee said. “It’s such an emotional game. If we execute like we can [in the first half] and get a score, it’s a whole different game. But that’s not what happened.”

Due to Peralta’s play and the struggles of Harrington, who has started all nine games this season, Lee said the starting job for Sacred Heart’s final regular-season game against Mitty next week is up for grabs.

“We’ll see how the week’s practice goes,” Lee said. “I want to beat Mitty, and whoever is going to give us the best shot [is going to start]. It’s going to be a pure competition and the best man, the guy who performs, is going to get the call.”

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