By Jeremy Balan
Defense has been the strength of the Sacred Heart Cathedral football team all season, but it has been the struggles of the offense that have held the Irish back recently, and those struggles came to a head on Friday night.
The Irish only ran 21 offensive plays through three quarters, totaled minus-4 yards, didn’t complete a pass and didn’t earn a first down until the 6:48 mark of the fourth quarter in a 21-7 loss to visiting Mitty at a rain-soaked Kezar Stadium.
Sacred Heart finished with 131 total yards, most coming on an 80-yard touchdown run from Valentino Miles in the fourth quarter. Miles finished with a game-high 96 yards on 12 carries, but didn’t have a carry in the second quarter and only had two in the third.
“I don’t know where our offense has been. I’m frustrated and I’m disappointed,” said Sacred Heart head coach John Lee. “We work all week on schemes and they seem to go out the door once the game starts. We have the athletes, but we don’t focus. That’s what is hurting us right now.”
Still, without any offense through three quarters, the Irish were in the game late, when senior cornerback Gino Regusa recovered an onside kick, following Miles’ score, with 8:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Irish then drove down to the Mitty 12-yard line, but on a fourth-and-long play, inexplicably ran a wide receiver reverse that fell well short of the first down.
“I was trying to get something going and one of my assistants suggested it. Then we realized we didn’t have [Zach] Tapel,” Lee said. “That was a mistake on my part. I’m wearing that one. That was not the right call there.”
Tapel, who plays wide receiver, linebacker and returns punts and kicks, was injured late in the second half, did not return and could be in doubt for next week’s Central Coast Section playoff opener. After the game, Lee was unsure of Tapel’s status.
“I just don’t know yet. Hopefully he goes to the doctor tonight and is good to go,” Lee said. “That kid is the heart and soul of our team in every phase. He never leaves the field. He does it all. It will be challenging [going forward without him], but that’s a part of life and football. Guys have to step up, because he plays such a big role for us.”
The biggest reason Sacred Heart remained in the game was another standout performance by the Irish defense. Although Sacred Heart gave up some big chunks of yardage, it held the Monarchs scoreless on two key red-zone opportunities, and two of the Mitty scores came on short fields.
“Our defense plays with heart and the offense has to find that heart,” Lee said. “When we needed them, they made a play.”
The Monarchs did sustain drives, however, and dominated time of possession. Mitty totaled 211 yards rushing on 48 carries and got three touchdown runs from senior Cail McClenahen. Mitty quarterback Andrew Barna added 45 yards rushing of his own and threw for 31 yards on 4-of-4 passing.
“We’ve been throwing the ball a lot this year and we’ve done a good job with that, but with these conditions we wanted to go straight ahead,” said Mitty head coach Matt Haniger. “We did a pretty nice job of running the ball and controlling the clock.”
With the regular season over, the Irish now can only wait for the CCS playoff brackets to be released on Sunday, where they will likely go on the road in the first round.
“We’ve lost that spark. There was a spark we had and we’ve misplaced it,” Lee said. “We need to find it next week and we’re starting fresh [in the playoffs]. Everyone is 0-0 and we’re going to get after it.”
M: 5:57 — Cail McClenahen 2-yard run (Cameron Vaca kick good)
M: 3:28 — McClenahen 4-yard run (Vaca kick good)
M: 5:59 — MCClenahen 10-yard run (Vaca kick good)
SH: 8:14 — Valentino Miles 80-yard run (Jack Harrington kick good)