By Jeremy Balan
A series of missed opportunities was the theme for Sacred Heart Cathedral’s 2010 football season, but the Irish dismissed those demons in their first game of the 2011 season.
Despite blowing a 19-0 halftime lead, the Irish rose to the occasion when it counted, executing a nine-play, 69-yard drive in the final minutes to edge defending Central Coast Section champion Terra Nova 32-31 on Friday at Kezar Stadium.
“It was desire, straight up desire,” Sacred Heart head coach John Lee said of the Irish fourth-quarter effort. “With a three-touchdown lead [at the half], we need to finish it. The seniors didn’t like some of those results last year and they didn’t let it happen again.”
An injury limited Sacred Heart Cathedral senior running back Valentino Miles’ touches in the fourth quarter, when the Irish needed their final score they turned to their standout runner, who took an inside handoff and scored from 4 yards out with just over a minute remaining to put Sacred Heart up for good.
Miles still finished with a game-high 129 yards on 18 carries, but was contained for large portions of the game. Big runs of 51, 24 and 21 yards contributed to most of his total.
“When we needed him the most he scored,” Lee said. “I think he was frustrated, but he was determined all night to do that.”
Miles may have put on the finishing touch, but senior quarterback Jack Harrington laid the foundation on the final drive. Harrington went 4-for-6 on the drive, including a crucial 12-yard completion to fellow senior Zach Tapel on fourth down on the Irish 32-yard line.
“I told coach, put me at the Z and I’ll get you the first down,” Tapel said. “I had confidence in myself, my line and my team that we’d get it.”
Harrington threw for 146 yards on 17-of-30 passing, ran for 51 yards on 11 carries and scored three touchdowns (one passing, two rushing).
“Our offense is heavily run-based and [Miles] is a great running back, so our goal was to get the ball into his hands, but Terra Nova did a great job of stopping the run,” Harrington said. “We had to go to other options to move the ball.”
Leading up to the game Lee emphasized the need to contain Terra Nova quarterback Chris Forbes, and the Irish did just that in the first half, limiting the senior to 56 yards on 5-of-13 passing and 19 rushing yards.
Unfortunately for the Irish, that success didn’t last in the second half.
Forbes was nearly unstoppable after the halftime break, completing 12-of-18 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those touchdowns went to his favorite target, Matt Manessis, who terrorized the Sacred Heart secondary in the second half with six receptions for 201 yards.
The Irish defense broke down several times in the second half, but was stellar in the first half, and sacked Forbes six times in the game, led by senior linebacker John Morello’s three sacks.
After Miles’ score, Forbes was leading the Tigers down the field again, until an interception from Sacred Heart senior linebacker Villiami Uikilifi with 32 seconds left sealed the victory.
The Irish sideline erupted after the interception, but the tone on the Tigers’ sideline was markedly different and was expressed by Terra Nova head coach Bill Gray after the game.
“We showed a lot of character coming back, but you know — and you can quote me — when a private school plays a public school, you’re playing 12 guys instead of 11,” Gray said, in a reference to the game officials. “You can quote me, because I’m hot. Read between the lines, do whatever you want, okay? This is not good. If you’ve got some guts, put that in the paper.”
The Tigers were flagged eight times in the game, including a 15-yard personal foul on Sacred Heart’s game-winning drive. The Irish were penalized six times.
SH: 11:50 — Kelvin Saunders 21-yard fumble return (Jack Harrington kick good)
SH: 9:36 — Matt Hewitson 9-yard pass from Harrington (kick failed)
SH: 6:29 — Harrington 9-yard run (conversion failed)
TN: 7:13 — Safety
TN: 3:28 — Elias Vargas 32-yard pass from Chris Forbes (Ivan Mailangi pass from Forbes on conversion
TN: 0:04 — Nick Manessis 25-yard pass from Forbes (Manessis kick good)
SH: 9:44 — Harrington 14-yard run (Harrington kick good)
TN: 9:16 — Manessis 85-yard pass from Forbes (Ryan Virgin pass from Forbes on conversion)
TN: 2:30 — Manessis 62-yard pass from Forbes (conversion failed)
SH: 1:04 — Valentino Miles 5-yard (conversion failed)