By Graham Henderson
Sacred Heart Cathedral needed a win against Valley Christian at Kezar Stadium on Friday night to keep any playoff hopes alive.
But wins don’t come easily against the league’s top team, as Valley Christian (9-1, 6-1) was able to hold off a late rally by the Fightin’ Irish (5-6, 1-6) to clinch an the West Catholic Athletic League championship with a 45-28 win.
The combination of the Warriors high-scoring offense and a defense that stopped the Sacred Heart running game it its tracks was too much for the Fightin’ Irish to overcome.
“We gave up some big plays [from] time to time, but we bent, we didn’t break,” said Valley Christian head coach Mike Machado. “We won a league championship. That was one of the goals we had and we accomplished that.”
The Warriors offense was a threat both in the air and on the ground. Senior quarterback Zach Vaiana threw for 183 yards on 7-of-10 passing, and junior running back Byron Marshall carried the ball 18 times for 143 yards.
“The guys did a great job,” Machado said. “It’s the same cast of characters that do it every time for us.”
Marshall’s big game was bittersweet, however, as he got ejected on one of the last plays of the game for his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The Valley Christian defense was only part of the problem for the Fightin’ Irish running game. Standout running back Valentino Miles remained sidelined with a leg injury.
“It’s definitely tough,” said Sacred Heart head coach John Lee. “We have a couple kids out tonight, but that’s not an excuse.”
With Miles missing, the Fightin’ Irish turned to Jordan Gomes, who carried the ball nine times but was held to just 14 yards. Harry Libarle led the Irish with 31 yards on three carries, although nearly all the yardage was from a single 27-yard run, the longest running play the Fightin’ Irish had all night.
With the run game shut down, the Sacred Heart offense was left in the hands of senior quarterback Sean Murphy, who threw for 195 yards on 13-for-26 passing, but also threw three interceptions.
“Miles didn’t practice all week. We knew he was probably going to be out, so we were going to have to throw the ball and open them up a little bit,” Murphy said. “But I didn’t make some of the throws and a couple of bounces just didn’t go our way.”
Murphy did lead a brief rally in the second half, however.
With the Fightin’ Irish down 38-14, Murphy ran in a touchdown, and then made a perfect onside kick for Steffan Sanguinetti to recover.
The resulting drive ended on a failed fourth down conversion, but just three plays later, Warriors quarterback Vaiana fumbled in the end zone, allowing Conor Hurley to recover and cut the Warrior’s lead to 38-28 with 3:39 remaining.
But Murphy second onside kick of the game didn’t go as well as the first, and went out of bounds, dashing any chance of a Sacred Heart comeback.
“I definitely saw some light the whole game,” Lee said. “It’s just been frustrating all year with our inability to finish. We have to get back in the weight room and reevaluate things.”
VC: 7:29 — Jarrod Lawson 60-yard run (Phil Ramirez kick good)
SH: 11:16 — Harry Libarle 8-yard pass from Sean Murphy (Murphy kick good)
VC: 9:24 — Lawson 75-yard pass from Zach Vaiana (Ramirez kick good)
VC: 4:36 — Brain Fobbs 38-yard pass from Vaiana (Ramirez kick good)
VC: 0:33 — Fobbs 20-yard pass from Vaiana (Ramirez kick good)
SH: 0:23 — Zachary Tapel 95-yard kickoff return (Murphy kick good)
VC: 7:43 — Lawson 20-yard run (Ramirez kick good)
VC: 0:37 — Ramirez 32-yard field goal
SH: 9:21 — Murphy 3-yard run (Murphy kick good)
SH: 3:39 — Conor Hurley fumble recovery in end zone (Murphy kick good)
VC: 1:24 — Byron Marshall 4-yard run (Ramirez kick good)