ATHERTON -- Sacred Heart Prep coach Pete Lavorato said Corona del Mar reminds him of Pacific Grove.
If that's all the Sea Kings have to offer, it would be smooth sailing for the Gators to win Saturday's Division III state championship game in Carson. Sacred Heart Prep blasted Pacific Grove 56-21 for the Central Coast Section Division IV championship.
Safe to say the similarities are only stylistic. Corona del Mar (15-0), which represents a vast area as the Southern California Division III champion, goes into the game favored to win. The Sea Kings are ranked in the Cal-Hi Sports state top 25 whereas the Gators are not.
But Sacred Heart Prep (13-1) is not unfamiliar with the underdog role. Last week, the Gators were thought to have no chance against a talented El Cerrito team before they romped to a 42-7 victory for the Northern California Division III championship.
After that stunning victory, Lavorato has had to craft a different approach with his team this week.
"Last week, the biggest job was to build them up, making them think they could compete," Lavorato said. "This week, since we won big, I'm reminding them pride comes before the fall. When you're humble in sports and in life, no bad things can happen to you."
The Sea Kings operate out of a one-back, spread formation but favor the run over the pass. On the season, they've scored 46 rushing touchdowns opposed to 23 through the air. Junior Cole Martin has rushed for 1,718 yards and 22 touchdowns. Sophomore Anthony Battista has rushed for 984 yards.
The Gators are at their best stopping the run. But the Sea Kings are by no means one-dimensional. Quarterback Luke Napolitano has passed for 2,572 yards. Cole Collins (59 catches for 995 yards) and Bo St. Geme (58 receptions for 733 yards) are the top receivers. St. Geme is the son of former Stanford football player Ed St. Geme and former Stanford distance running standout Ceci (Hopp) St. Geme.
"One thing about El Cerrito, they were very athletic, but we didn't think they necessarily were that disciplined," strong safety Noah Kawasaki said. "When I looked at film of Corona del Mar, I could see they're disciplined and well-coached, and that's what scares me."
The Gators did not throw a pass in the first half in either of their past two games thanks to an offensive line that allowed the backs to run at will. That might not be so easy this time. Corona del Mar is allowing an average of only nine points per game (140 points allowed in 15 games).
"Their defense is pretty darn stout," Lavorato said. "But, you know, El Cerrito's defense was pretty good, too. We will do what we've tried to do successfully over the last four games in the playoffs. We can throw the ball, but it's kind of a secret. I don't do it unless I have to. The bottom line is winning the football game. We may need to mix in the pass if their linebackers are flying up too fast."
What Sacred Heart Prep has accomplished this season, particularly in its performance last week against El Cerrito, has been historic in nature and part of a redefinition of the school's image.
"Another reason we like to run the ball is because people think we're a little private school and the kids are soft," Lavorato said. "OK, think what you think, but we're going to run the ball down your throat."