By Jeremy Balan
As much as the rivalry, venue and circumstances of the Central Coast Section Division III football championship between Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Ignatius on Saturday night means to San Francisco, what may be most exciting is that both teams are playing their best football of the season.
The two schools have gone on extended road trips in the first two rounds of the playoffs and have come away with an opportunity to play in the first high school football game in AT&T Park’s history.
St. Ignatius, as the seventh seed in the eight-team tournament, came from behind to upset second-seeded Aptos, then stunned tournament favorite Valley Christian of San Jose on Saturday. Sacred Heart, as the fifth seed, took down Monterey in the first round and then handled top-seeded Christopher of Gilroy in the semifinals.
“At this point in the season, for teams to make the championship game, you have to be playing your best football,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “There’s no question [Sacred Heart] is playing very well right now and I’d like to think we’re doing some things well also.”
Both offenses have been stellar in the playoffs, led by Sacred Heart running back Valentino Miles and St. Ignatius quarterback Jack Stinn.
Miles scored all six touchdowns for the Irish (7-5) against Christopher last week and totaled 276 yards from scrimmage.
“He’s playing motivated and that’s exciting,” said Sacred Heart head coach John Lee. “He’s in a comfort zone, but I don’t want him to get too comfortable. This game is going to come down to who has the last bullet in the gun.”
The standout senior also ran for 310 yards and scored two touchdowns in Sacred Heart’s regular-season win over the Wildcats (5-6-1).
“Miles is a very good running back and [Jack] Harrington is a very good quarterback in that system,” Regalia said. “There’s a lot of different parts in their offense and Miles is a big part of that, no question. I think he showed that last week and he proved it against us in the first game.”
Stinn broke out for 328 yards and three touchdowns in St. Ignatius’ stunning, last-minute win over Valley Christian, but the first meeting against Sacred Heart was undoubtedly the low-point of his season.
The left-handed junior threw for 181 yards against the Irish, but did so on 11-of-34 completions and was under constant pressure by the Sacred Heart defense.
The St. Ignatius running game also showed signs of improvement against Valley Christian last week, but the biggest chunk of yardage came from an unlikely source.
With starting senior running back Kerry Crowley out with an injury, the Wildcats shifted fullback Dom Truoccolo to running back and the senior responded with a season-high 137 yards on 25 carries.
“I think Dom is going to be successful wherever we put him on the field because of his work ethic, his ability and because he’s a smart football player,” Regalia said. “He’s a very smart offensive player and that’s why we can throw the ball to him, that’s why he can carry the ball and that’s why he can block. We’ve used him so many different ways this season because we can.”
The Wildcats are hopeful Crowley will return for the championship game on Saturday and as a senior, the game has a special importance to him.
“It’s the last time for the seniors to play and it’s really special,” Crowley said. “It’s been our goal all year and now that it’s here, we’re ready for it.”
Lee and the Irish seniors have the same feeling, and although the first meeting between the two teams should not be sold short, Sacred Heart’s focus is on the finale.
“For most of these seniors, they’ll never play in another competitive football game,” Lee said. “It is a great memory, what happened on Oct. 21, but that’s gone. We want to create fantastic memories on Dec. 3. If we come in with an attitude that they’ll lay down for us, we’ll be sadly mistaken.”