By Jeremy Balan
GILROY — As Valentino Miles goes, so does Sacred Heart Cathedral’s football team, and the standout senior running back had a night to remember in the Central Coast Section Division III semifinals on Friday night against Christopher.
Miles totaled 143 yards rushing on 26 carries, gained 133 yards on five receptions and scored every touchdown in Sacred Heart’s 42-23 win over the top-seeded Cougars at Gilroy High School.
“The touchdowns don’t matter. It was all about getting the win,” Miles said. “It was a good team effort. I just happened to be the one who got in the end zone.”
While the final score seems lopsided, Sacred Heart was trailing 17-14 at the half, but Miles only needed the first play from scrimmage in the second half to give the fifth-seeded Irish (7-5) the lead.
The play looked ordinary at most in development, as Sacred Heart quarterback Jack Harrington threw to Miles on the left wing behind the line of scrimmage.
With five defenders clustered in front of him and no blockers, Miles juked the first defender, broke a tackle, stepped over another, broke another tackle, then outran the rest of the Christopher defense down the left sideline for a 67-yard score.
“That was freakish,” said Sacred Heart head coach John Lee. “He took that play over. That was collegial and just a big-time play.”
Miles’ big plays came mostly on passes from Harrington, who threw for 214 yards on 12-of-21 passing, but his impact may have been greatest in the rushing game, where he wore down the Christopher defense despite not having a run over 11 yards.
The quintessential example of Miles’ running style came on his fourth score, which put the Irish up 28-17 in the third quarter.
Miles scored on a straightforward run from 7 yards out, but was hit at the 5-yard line and carried two Christopher defenders into the end zone.
“He showed up tonight and we just kept feeding him,” Lee said.
Two more touchdown runs from Miles put the game out of reach, but it was the standout Irish defense that slammed the door on the Cougars (10-2). Led by two sacks from senior John Morello and two interceptions from Brett Rasso, the Irish held Christopher to minus-8 yards rushing.
Rasso, a sophomore that was called up from the junior varsity team for the playoffs, also returned kickoffs and punts for the Irish and made a touchdown-saving tackle late in the second half.
The Irish largely held down the Christopher offense, but the Cougars did gain positive yardage, it came in bunches and they got started immediately.
The Cougars struck on the first play from scrimmage, when quarterback Brandon Pickens connected with speedy wide receiver Marcus Harrell on a 63-yard screen pass for a score.
“They had that first strike and I did not want to get into a shootout with that team,” Lee said. “I watched three [games on] film and they score so fast. We hunkered down, though, and we controlled the ball, ate the clock and scored. We deprived them of what they wanted.”
Pickens again connected with Harrell from 19-yards out to extend the Christopher lead to 17-6 in the second quarter. Then, after Sacred Heart opened up its big lead late, Harrell hit wideout Bryant Cid for a 52-yard score after Pickens sent a lateral pass to Harrell behind the line of scrimmage.
The win sends the Irish to a CCS title game for only the second time in school history and will face a familiar West Catholic Athletic League opponent in the final. St. Ignatius and Valley Christian square off Saturday in the other semifinal matchup.
“I don’t care who it is,” Lee said. “It’s not comfortable [playing against a league team], but those are guys I respect and we know what we’re going to get.”
C: 11:40 — Marcus Harrell 63-yard pass from Brandon Pickens (Herman Enriquez kick good)
SH: 3:38 — Valentino Miles 23-yard pass from Jack Harrington (kick failed)
C: 6:59 — Enriquez 17-yard field goal
C: 5:43 — Harrell 19-yard pass from Pickens (Enriquez kick good)
SH: 1:27 — Miles 1-yard run (Harrington run on conversion)
SH: 11:40 — Miles 67-yard pass from Harrington (kick blocked)
SH: 7:38 — Miles 7-yard run (Miles run on conversion)
SH: 0:13 — Miles 1-yard run (Harrington kick good)
SH: 6:43 — Miles 8-yard run (Harrington kick good)
C: 6:26 — Bryant Cid 52-yard pass from Harrell (conversion failed)