By Jeremy Balan
The Central Coast Section Division III championship between St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral essentially came down to a bounce.
With the game tied at 14-14 with 4:18 remaining in the third quarter, a botched snap caromed off Sacred Heart quarterback Jack Harrington and hit the turf.
St. Ignatius junior linebacker Danny O’Malley scooped up the ball and ran 50 yards for the game-winning score in the Wildcats’ 21-14 win on Saturday night in front of 12,000 fans at AT&T Park.
It is the second CCS title in St. Ignatius’ history.
Photo slideshow by Doug Ko and Eric Luis
“It just rolled and I saw it, then I saw the open stands [past the end zone],” O’Malley said. “We brought it when we needed to.”
After a mistake-free first half, the Irish (7-6) had a 14-7 lead, but were plagued with errors in the second, and the Wildcats (6-6-1) pounced on the opportunities.
Harrington also threw three interceptions in the second half, but it was a failed fake punt that set the Wildcats up for the tying score.
On the first possession of the second half, Sacred Heart punter Daniel Lalor rolled out right and appeared to be opting for one of his normal, rugby-style kicks. Instead, Lalor tried to run for the first down, but was stopped short.
“It wasn’t a fake punt,” said Sacred Heart head coach John Lee. “It’s a call. He has that ability to run and I’m not going to blame the kid. He dives and he comes up this short.”
After taking over on the Irish 38-yard line, St. Ignatius quarterback Jack Stinn scored on a 1-yard sneak nearly five minutes later to tie the score at 14-14.
“[St. Ignatius] took care of their opportunities when they had them and we didn’t,” Lee said.
The Wildcats’ defense not only capitalized on Sacred Heart’s miscues, but held the Irish to just 46 yards in the second half.
“Our defensive coaches put our guys in the right position to make plays,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia said. “Our guys responded.”
While the St. Ignatius defense held firm, the Wildcats’ offense found production from newfound halfback Dom Truoccolo.
The senior, who was the Wildcats’ starting fullback until starting running back Kerry Crowley was injured in the first round of the postseason against Aptos, ran for 179 yards on 36 carries and scored on a 5-yard run in the second quarter to even the score at 7-7.
On the first drive of the game, the Wildcats handed the ball to Truoccolo on 12 of their first 13 plays and he had 116 yards in the first quarter alone.
“We rode him and we’re going to ride him because of who he is — a senior captain,” Regalia said. “His work ethic is second to none and we definitely needed to establish the run.”
Truoccolo and fellow running back Albert Waters (who had 65 yards on 13 carries) were practically the entire Wildcats offense, as Stinn, who has been so essential in their playoff run, did not complete a pass on just six attempts.
“Jack is a part of our offense, and because he is such a team player, that’s him managing the game,” Regalia said. “I’m not surprised that we were successful [when he didn’t complete a pass]. We were running the ball really well too.”
Still, the Sacred Heart defense played well enough to give the Irish a final shot to tie late in the fourth quarter. The Irish defense held St. Ignatius to just 76 yards in the second half and forced a punt with 2:26 remaining.
Harrington led the Irish into St. Ignatius territory, but was picked off by senior David Bornstein with 33 seconds left.
Harrington was looking for standout running back Valentino Miles deep down the middle of the field, but Bonrstein stepped in front of the lofted pass to make the interception. Miles was held to 80 yards on 16 carries and scored on a 1-yard run to give the Irish a 14-7 lead right before the half, but was injured midway through the fourth quarter and returned for the final drive.
“I told him all week and before the game, ‘They’re going to have two guys on you,'” Lee said. “That was going to open up everything. He’s that kind of a special player.”
Miles ran for over 300 yards in the first meeting between the two teams, and early on, the Irish capitalized on the run-focused St. Ignatius defense.
Following a stop by the Irish defense on the Wildcats’ opening drive, Harrington connected with wide receiver Matt Hewitson for a 79-yard score on Sacred Heart’s second play from scrimmage.
“We hit the big pass, and we were moving the ball at times, but we weren’t consistent,” Lee said. “We just came up short too many times.”
A scary moment after the final whistle
The game provided exciting moments for both sides and the stage of AT&T Park was unprecedented for high school football in San Francisco, but the event was almost marred by tragedy.
After receiving the championship trophy, the St. Ignatius players went to the student section, as they do after every game, to recite the school’s fight song.
With St. Ignatius fans in the temporary bleachers in right field and increased pressure from a sea of students on the railing, the barrier collapsed and several students fell nearly 10 feet down to the field.
Two students and one player received medical attention, while a group of police held the gate in place as the crowd was cleared away from the area. One student was down on her back and received attention from paramedics for an extended period of time, but later walked away with no apparent serious injuries.
SH: 6:09 — Matt Hewitson 79-yard pass from Jack Harrington (Harrington kick good)
SI: 10:58 — Dom Truoccolo 5-yard run (Michael Capitolo kick good)
SH: 1:22 — Valentino Miles 1-yard run (Harrington kick good)
SI: 6:25 — Jack Stinn 1-yard run (Capitolo kick good)
SI: 4:18 — Danny O’Malley 50-yard fumble return (Capitolo kick good)