Sacred Heart Prep dethrones Menlo-Atherton, celebrates Bay Division title
ATHERTON — Since suffering a one-point loss early in the season, the Sacred Heart Prep football team has gone through test after test, week after week.
But what happened Saturday was itself, a 35-14 victory over neighbor and longtime foe Menlo-Atherton, a victory that clinched the PAL/SCVAL Bay Division championship for the Gators (8-1, 4-0 ).
MA had won the last four Bay Division titles and had swept Sacred Heart Prep the last seven straight seasons.
“As a head coach, I’ve never been on the winning side of a game against MA,” Sacred Heart Prep coach Mark Grieb said. “Or as an assistant coach. This group, I’m so happy for them. Not just to end this losing streak and get us over the hump, but what it does for us in terms of the playoffs and as a statement of how good this team really is.”
The players on both teams grew up in close proximity to each other.
“It’s great, we have a great rivalry with them,” SHP running back Andrew Latu said. “I’ve played rugby with a lot of them. It’s really great to beat them and win a championship.”
MA (5-4, 3-2) scored first, getting a short field after the Gators turned the ball over on their first possession at their own 42 and took the lead on a 10-yard pass from Billy Johnson to Jaden Moss.
The score remained 7-0 until Sacred Heart Prep seized control with three touchdowns in the final 3:15 of the first half.
First, quarterback Mitchell Taylor scored on a 6-yard run to cap a 77-yard, 15-play drive.
Classic Sacred Heart Prep ball control.
“They do a good job in their system of going from A to B to C and getting four yards at any time,” MA coach Chris Saunders said.
But on their next possession, the Gators scored in a flash when Taylor hit Carter Shaw on a short slant and Shaw broke it 72 yards untouched.
A fumble was then recovered by SHP’s John Chung at the MA 37, and six plays later Conrad Wilbur scored on a 2-yard run to make it 21-7 at halftime.
Taylor’s 17-yard run extended the lead to 28-7.
The Bears responded with a methodical drive of their own, going 51 yards in 14 plays, with Sherrod Smith scoring from the 1.
But any hopes of a comeback were dashed when Chung intercepted a pass downfield and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown.
“It feels amazing,” Chung said. “As soon as I got hold of it, I saw green.”
The 14 points scored by MA were the most points allowed by the Gators in a game this season. In nine games, they gave up a total of 75 points.
“I have so much faith in our defense,” Grieb said. “They just play so physical and hard. Our defense was definitely the rock for us.”
Middle linebacker Shay O’Kelly entered the game with 101 tackles on the season, the most of anyone in the Central Coast Section reporting to MaxPreps.
“After the first quarter, I moved to Edge Rusher, which was great going up against two Division I linemen (MA’s Soane Faasolo and David Tangilanu),” O’Kelly said. “I hadn’t beaten MA at all, not even JV as a freshman.”
Sacred Heart Prep spread the ball around to six different ball carriers who combined for 202 yards rushing on 48 carries. Anthony Noto had a team-high 62 yards on 13 carries. MA’s Smith finished with a career-high 88 yards on 18 carries.
After four years as Bay Division champions, MA had to watch another team celebrate the division title.
“It’s a huge disappointment,” Saunders said. “It’s something we expect, it’s our goal every year. That will be our goal again next year.”