El Cerrito High entered its California Interscholastic Federation Division III Northern California regional championship football game on Dec. 14 as an overwhelming choice to advance to the state final.
But El Cerrito proved to be no match for the 600-student private school as the Gators rolled to a 42-7 victory at De Anza High behind a sensational performance from running back/linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven.
The Sacred Heart Prep star rushed for 160 yards and four touchdowns in 15 carries and played relentless defense, including a second-quarter hit that knocked El Cerrito quarterback Keilan Benjamin from the game.
"We can blame it on mistakes, we can blame it on not executing, we can blame it on injuries, we can blame it on a lot of things," El Cerrito coach Kenny Kahn said after consoling his heartbroken players. "But I don't want to take away from Sacred Heart. Congratulations to Sacred Heart.
"But I am still proud of what my boys accomplished. These past two seasons, they've shown El Cerrito, they've shown our community what we're capable of, and they know continuing on you have to fight through adversity."
Sacred Heart Prep led 21-0 at halftime and then drove 61 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter. El Cerrito, which beat Marin Catholic to win the North Coast Section championship, got on the scoreboard later in the third quarter when UCLA-bound Adarius Pickett ran in from the 12.
The Gauchos (12-3) then forced a punt, giving their fans reason for hope, but fumbled the ball back to Sacred Heart Prep two plays later. When Burr-Kirven scored from the 7 with 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Gators led 35-7.
Kahn said his players were not overconfident about the matchup, noting that they brought a proper attitude to the field.
"But the truth of the matter is, we had a number of adversities tonight that we had to overcome," Kahn said. "This is the first time ever, as a coach, that we had a running clock put on us at this capacity in this type of game."
Burr-Kirven had said during the week that Sacred Heart Prep wanted to earn El Cerrito's respect and that the Gators were "no joke."
El Cerrito found out right away that SHP (13-1) was no joke. The Gauchos went three-and-out on their opening series and then watched Sacred Heart Prep ride the back of Burr-Kirven to reach the end zone. On that opening series, Burr-Kirven carried four times for 41 yards, including a 9-yard scoring run.
St. Mary's 49, Fortuna 21: Seniors Ian Bonde, Liam Godfrey and Lorenzo Logwood all generated stellar offensive statistics for St. Mary's on Dec. 14.
But the defense of St. Mary's also shined in the Panthers' victory over No. 2 Fortuna in the North Coast Section Division IV championship game at Humboldt State University in Arcata.
Fifth-seeded St. Mary's forced four turnovers and allowed just seven points after the first quarter to help earn the program's first NCS title.
In one of the bigger momentum shifts in the game, the Panthers, trailing 14-7, stopped Fortuna on fourth-and-1 at their own 13.
"Our defense has been exceptional all year," said St. Mary's coach Keith Minor. "They've been really tough in the red zone, and that was a great stand right there. They gave us four stops."
That play sparked an ensuing 87-yard drive for St. Mary's, punctuated by quarterback Bonde's 43-yard touchdown pass to Godfrey. The Bonde-to-Godfrey connection not only tied the score at 14 but also clearly swung the momentum back to St. Mary's (10-4).
The Panthers made their other pivotal stop in the third quarter after Brett Renner's diving interception gave Fortuna (10-3) the ball at the St. Mary's 26-yard line.
But on a sweep to the left, a trio of Panthers defenders forced a fumble and recovered the ball at the 10-yard line.
St. Mary's capitalized quickly, needing just four plays to go 90 yards for the touchdown. The big play was Logwood's third-down, 54-yard burst through the Huskies and then back down the right sideline.
On the next play, Bonde hit Eric Phillip on a 25-yard TD pass, and the Panthers took a 21-14 lead.
With less than a minute remaining in the quarter, the Huskies chased Bonde out of the pocket. The senior quarterback fired the ball down the right sideline, putting it up for grabs. Godfrey went up between two defenders, caught the ball, and then raced off for a 75-yard touchdown that made the score 28-14. He finished the game with 13 catches for 247 yards.
Bonde completed 20 of 25 passes for 340 yards and four TDs. Logwood carried the ball 16 times for 130 yards. Phillip caught five passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
-- Neil Tarpey, Eureka Times-Standard