SAN JOSE -- With Bellarmine College Prep desperately trying to hold on in the final minute Friday night, Serra running back Kava Cassidy charged toward the goal line with a chance to put his team in the Central Coast Section Open Division final.

But the reigning champions stopped him.

In a game that ended similarly to the meeting between the teams in October, Bellarmine held firm when it counted as the top-seeded Bells advanced to the title game next week with a 17-12 victory at Independence High.

Bellarmine will play Archbishop Mitty or St. Ignatius, which will play their semifinal Saturday.

"The whole thing we preach here is want-to," Bellarmine lineman Dominic Luca said. "All that play came down to is us wanting to do it. We worked all summer to do that."

It took everything Bellarmine (11-1) had to hold off Serra, which stormed back after the Bells had turned a 5-3 halftime deficit into a 17-5 lead on two touchdown runs by Kenneth Olugbode.

Serra went 80 yards in seven plays to cut the lead to 17-12 with 8:27 to play. Eric Redwood scored the touchdown from 5 yards out, but the big play came when Zack Kazakoff threw a 26-yard pass to Zachary Mitchell that got the Padres to the 5.

Bellarmine went three-and-out on its next series, setting up a dramatic finish.

Taking over at its 11 with 6:37 left, Serra drove down the field again. The Padres reached the Bellarmine 26 after Kazakoff, with defenders applying major pressure, threw a screen pass to Redwood. The senior turned the pass into a 35-yard gain.


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But Redwood injured his collarbone and was not on the field when the Padres moved to the Bells' 10.

On first down, Angelo Arco ran 5 yards to the 5.

On second down, Cassidy ran 2 yards to the 3.

On third down, Arco ran 1 yard to the 2.

And on fourth down, the Bells stopped Cassidy at the 1 with 48 seconds left.

"It came down to one play, just like it did in the first game," Bellarmine coach Mike Janda said, referring to the Bells' tackle on a two-point play in overtime that beat Serra 35-34 on Oct. 13. "It came down to one play, and our defense made the play each time.

"So we've got to give all the credit to our defense, plus we have to give a lot of credit to them driving down the field twice."

For Serra (9-3), it was an excruciating end to its season.

"I don't want to get too philosophical," Padres coach Patrick Walsh said. "Like the first game, it was like three feet and a yard. It's like the difference between those two teams is a few feet. They came up on the right side of those feet, and I've got no regrets, I guess."

Walsh called Redwood's injury "devastating." The running back rushed for 117 yards in 21 carries and caught the big 35-yard pass on Serra's final series.

"Our best player springs a big run (on the screen), the tempo is maddening, he gets tackled," he said. "We've got four plays to put it in from (10) yards, and he's not in there to do it."

The Padres seemed to have all the momentum when the second half began. But it evaporated when a bad exchange on the first play of the third quarter gave Bellarmine the ball at the Serra 23.

Six plays later, Olugbode scored from the 2 to give Bellarmine its first lead, 10-5.

The Bells extended the lead to 17-5 when they drove 69 yards for another touchdown, this one an 11-yard run by Olugbode.

Unlike the first game between the teams, the defenses dominated the first half Friday, pressuring both quarterbacks and mostly shutting down the other's running game.

Serra put together a 13-play drive on its first series, chewing up much of the clock in the opening quarter. But the Padres were unable to capitalize on a successful fake field-goal conversion -- a 10-yard run by Fia Malepeai to the Bellarmine 11 -- and settled for a 37-yard field goal by Anthony Toms for a 3-0 lead.

Bellarmine answered on its next series as passes of 17 and 13 yards from K.J. Carta-Samuels to Olugbode helped move the Bells to the Serra 16. But the Padres defense tightened, holding Bellarmine to a 30-yard field goal by Grant Bush for a 3-3 tie.

The score stayed that way until the final two minutes of the first half.

With Bellarmine facing a third-and-30 from its 8, Daniel Lavulo charged in and sacked Carta-Samuels in the end zone, giving Serra a 5-3 lead at halftime.

Bellarmine found itself pinned against its goal line largely because of penalties, which was a big story for the Bells in the opening half.

"Really, our team is based on hitting 'em, hitting 'em, hitting 'em until they break," Carta-Samuels said. "That happened in the second half. In the first half, their speed and athleticism was kind of kicking our butt a little bit. But in the second half, our ground game came alive."

For more on high school sports, see Darren Sabedra's After School blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/highschools. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/DarrenSabedra.