SAN JOSE — The Serra High School of San Mateo football team, which hadn't found the end zone the entire second half of the CIF Northern California regional championship game Friday, needed that and more to keep their state title hopes alive.
Down eight points with 1:51 to go, they marched. And with 36 seconds left and facing a fourth-and-long from Del Oro's 38-yard line, Serra senior QB Matthew Fa'aita threw up one final prayer.
And receiver Kava Cassidy was just inches shy from answering it which would have kept the unlikely drive alive.
Fa'aita's final incomplete pass was all Del Oro needed to hang on to a 28-20 victory Friday at San Jose City College. With the win, Del Oro advances to the state championship against SoCal claimant Bakersfield.
“We lost by eight points,” said Serra coach Patrick Walsh. “There's certainly nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the season that this team had.”
Entering Friday night's title game, Serra had turned in its most accomplished season in school history, as the Padres won the Central Coast Section Open Division crown.
But in anticipating a physical game with the Golden Eagles, the Padres proved ineffective in stopping the ground assault of Del Oro running back Dylan Kainrath, who rushed for 209 yards on 29 carries, including one touchdown.
But as much as Kainrath gashed the Serra defense, penalties likewise did them in.
“At the end of the day, we made way too many mistakes,” Walsh said, whose Padres were penalized 12 times for 110 yards. “We shot ourselves in the foot a few times. And that's my responsibility to make sure we play clean football.”
But down 21-14 at halftime, Serra's defense stymied Del Oro's offensive production, allowing just one score on a 38-yard punt return in the third quarter by Trey Udoffla.
Serra proved effective in mounting lengthy drives in the third quarter, but turned in a pair of field goals, from 35 and 25 yards, respectively. Those two scores by kicker Steven Bodley kept Serra within eight points.
“We had our opportunities. We moved the ball in the air very well. Just finishing off those drives off with seven's instead of three's. … You look to those moments in the game and that's really the difference,” Walsh said. “They came up with the stops. And we didn't.”
Del Oro opened the game forcing a Serra three-and-out and capped a seemingly easy three-play, 46-yard touchdown drive with a 26-yard scoring run by Kainrath.
But Serra answered.
The Padres put together a 10-play drive, one that was kept alive by a gutsy conversion on fourth down, that was capped by 9-yard scoring run set up by the read option.
Del Oro recaptured the lead near the end of the first half with a three-play, 99-yard touchdown drive capped by 22-yard scoring pass from Michael Moore to wideout Tyler Meeter.
Serra's Kelepi Lataimua retied the game on a 4-yard reverse scoring run at 14-14. But receiver Therin Heryford broke that tie just before the half with a TD reception. And Del Oro never relinquished the lead again.
Del Oro's lone turnover of the game came when Udoffla, who had returned a punt for a score earlier, muffed a punt deep in Serra territory, but the Padres could only turn a field goal.
Fa'aita completed 17 of 31 passes for 201 yards and rushed for a team high 47 yards on 18 carries, and tossed one costly interception late in the fourth quarter that seemingly sealed the win for the Golden Eagles. But a missed 29-yard field goal attempt by kicker Mason Humes set up Serra's final drive of the season.
“The whole team showed a lot of heart all year long. This is a resilient group of guys,” Walsh said. “What I loved most about tonight was that our kids were crying. They were disappointed and they're sad. And that just shows the competitive nature of these kids.”
That competitive nature nearly boiled over during and after the game as scuffles highlighted the action in the second half.
“You've got two really competitive groups of kids,” Walsh said. “And sometimes that happens. I don't like seeing that. But you know, there were no punches thrown, and sometimes tempers flare.”
Del Oro coach Casey Taylor, whose team made the three-hour trek from Loomis, agreed.
“It's an emotional sport,” he said. “I'm not blaming anybody. Two great teams, two classy programs, you just don't want to see anything like that happen.”
Del Oro will play Bakersfield next week from the StubHub center in Carson.