By Jeremy Balan
It’s becoming a trend.
Sacred Heart Cathedral’s defense can simply lock teams down.
The Irish defense was a driving force again on Friday night at Kezar Stadium, limiting Jefferson to just 127 total yards, while forcing five turnovers in a 45-14 win.
The Irish (3-0) sacked Jefferson quarterback Jesse Gilson six times in the game, only allowed 10 total yards in the first half and ended the game on a play that is becoming their trademark.
With just seconds remaining, Sacred Heart senior linebacker Viliami Uikilifi recorded the Irish’s sixth sack of the game, hitting Gilson so hard from the blind side that the ball came loose. Then fellow senior Zach Tapel did the rest, returning the fumble 70 yards for a touchdown with four seconds remaining.
“We come out every week and prepare, and every week our game plan changes,” said senior linebacker John Morello, who had two sacks on the night. “The best part of it all is we’re spreading it around. It’s not just one guy, it’s the entire defense. We work well together and we’re starting to get in a groove.”
Despite the constant pressure, Gilson led the Indians (1-2) in rushing with 37 yards (including a 54-yard run) and threw for 49 yards on 8-of-16 passing with two interceptions.
“Our [offensive line] did not play very well. Our guys were open, and Jesse has to be on-target, but with that blitz… We just got outplayed,” said Jefferson head coach Ako Poti. “We didn’t have a very good week of practice, and against a team of this caliber, if you don’t have a good week of practice, you’re not going to be able to compete. We hung around for a few quarters, but they started out well and boy, did they finish.”
The Sacred Heart offense racked up 341 yards, but was also set back by three turnovers, including its first drive of the game.
Sacred Heart senior quarterback Jack Harrington drove the Irish down to the Jefferson 20-yard line, but a throw into the end zone that appeared to be caught in the gusty Kezar wind was intercepted by Jefferson’s Myles Holmes and returned 104 yards to give the Indians a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Irish settled in and scored 24 unanswered points to take a 24-6 lead into the half, but after a scoreless third quarter, Jefferson cut the lead to 24-14 on a Gilson quarterback sneak early in the fourth.
Like so many times last season, when it counted, the Irish gave the ball to standout senior running back Valentino Miles.
Miles bounced back from two earlier fumbles and ran for 63 yards and two touchdowns on six carries in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach, and finished the night with 140 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries.
“We had to feed him. We had to feed that horse,” Sacred Heart head coach John Lee said of Miles. “We did, and he came through at the right time.”
Miles may have carried the Irish late, but little-used running back Tom Wallace provided the highlight of the first half. Setting to block as the up-back in punt formation, Wallace called his own number on a fake, took a direct snap and broke away untouched for a 46-yard score to extend the Irish lead to 14-6 early in the second quarter.
“We told Tommy that if he saw a certain front he could think about [calling a fake],” said Lee, who had no idea at the time the fake punt would be executed. “He called that on his own. He saw something so obscure, called it, and he’s a fast kid.”
As well as the game and the non-league schedule went for Sacred Heart, it comes with a caveat.
The Irish were in this exact same situation last season, 3-0 with high hopes for the Central Coast Section playoffs. But all that was squandered with a 1-6 run in the West Catholic Athletic League.
Now, a bye week awaits before their WCAL opener against Bellarmine on Oct. 1.
“We start, in two weeks, a meat-grinder,” Lee said. “We can be the meat in the grinder or the person operating the machine. That’s a decision we have to make collectively.”
J: 7:13 — Myles Holmes 104-yard interception return (kick missed)
SH: 4:00 — Valentino Miles 15-yard run (Jack Harrington kick good)
SH: 9:34 — Tom Wallace 46-yard run (Harrington kick good)
SH: 7:05 — Miles 9-yard run (Harrington kick good)
SH: 0:07 — Harrington 28-yard field goal
J: 11:28 — Jesse Gilson 1-yard run (Chris Dismuke pass from Gilson on conversion)
SH: 6:24 — Miles 3-yard run (Harrington kick good)
SH: 4:47 — Miles 32-yard run (Harrington kick good)
SH: 0:04 — Zach Tapel 70-yard fumble return (Harrington kick good)