GILROY — As was often the case throughout a season filled with tough opponents, the St. Ignatius Wildcats ran into another buzz saw on Saturday, falling 13-7 to the Sacred Heart Prep Gators in the CCS Open Division III Quarterfinals.
After a week filled with postponements and relocations of games as a byproduct of the air quality caused by the Camp fire, the game kicked off almost exactly a week after its initial scheduled kickoff. What was first supposed to be played last Saturday in Atherton, then Monday night in Redwood City and then Saturday afternoon in Salinas was finally pushed part of the way back up Highway 101 to Gilroy, and began at 1:15 p.m., just 15 minutes after the scheduled start despite the final relocation taking place two hours before kickoff.
“The conditions are what they are,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “We traveled a lot this year, and our guys did a great job staying the course over these last two weeks.”
While the Wildcats did hang with a team that had lost just once all season, an already-difficult challenge was compounded when senior team captain Mark Biggins left the game late in the second quarter with a head injury. The three-year varsity running back would not return.
Biggins, who had scored on a 3-yard run to cut the SHP lead to 10-7, was hurt when making a tackle with 11 seconds left in the first half.
At that point, seventh-seeded St. Ignatius (3-8) had shaken off early rust, but without Biggins, the offense was clearly hindered in the second half against a team that allowed more than 20 points just twice all season.
The only real chances for the Wildcats in the second half came after a 32-yard Ronan Donnelly field goal had put second-seeded Sacred Heart Prep (10-1) ahead by six. Strong pass breakups by Teddye Buchanan — who also recovered a fumble — and Jack Hagfeldt kept the Gators out of the end zone, but a 13-7 deficit would prove to be insurmountable.
A 24-yard pass from Zach Taylor-Smith to Bryan Blake on third down got St. Ignatius across midfield, and a 14-yard catch-and-run by Matt Rosen had the Wildcats just outside the red zone, but the drive abruptly ended on a William Peterson interception.
A blocked punt with 6:36 remaining had St. Ignatius just 20 yards away from taking the lead, but the offense would only go backwards. A missed 39-yard field goal handed the ball right back to the Gators, who picked up three first downs to run out the final 4:33.
Aside from Donnelly’s field goal, most of Sacred Heart Prep’s scoring came early and was fueled by the defense. A botched handoff was fumbled and nearly picked up by the Gators in the end zone before Biggins ultimately fell on the loose ball for a safety. The ensuing free kick went out of bounds, setting Sacred Heart Prep up at the Wildcat 45. Even with a facemask penalty, the Gators were stopped on the following set of downs, but Tevita Moimoi — who ran for a game-high 110 yards on 16 carries — picked up a first down on a fake punt. He would move the chains again with a five-yard carry to set up the lone Gator touchdown of the day, a 22-yard catch-and-run from John Willard on a Raymond Price III short pass over the middle.
Aside from that, the St. Ignatius defense stood tall, allowing only nine more passing yards on the entire day despite facing a sophomore quarterback with sky-high potential. Price did run for 74 yards on eight carries.
Jahsai Shannon was the lead rusher for the Wildcats, with 43 yards on 11 carries. Both of Blake’s catches went for 24 yards, making him the top receiver on the day for either team.