In the first PAL Bay Division game of the season, Sacred Heart Prep's offense looked like a well-oiled machine, racking up over 500 yards and seven touchdowns against an overmatched Terra Nova defense.
But, the Gators' offensive success was not surprising for a unit that came into the contest averaging 43 points per game.
Instead, the real story of the game was the performance by the young Sacred Heart defense.
The Gators held Terra Nova scoreless for the first 40 minutes, as Sacred Heart cruised to a 47-13 victory in their homecoming game on Friday afternoon in Atherton.
"That's the best we've ever played Terra Nova on defense by far," head coach Pete Lavorato said. "Our defensive kids played with confidence today. It was the most confidence we've shown so far this year."
The Sacred Heart defense was coming off a disappointing effort in its victory over Carmel two weeks ago. The Gators allowed 55 points and 340 rushing yards, but were saved by a 76-point outburst by the offense.
"Letting up that many points to Carmel was pretty unacceptable," senior defensive end Cameron Dulsky said. "So we had to focus in practice on each of us just doing our assignments."
During the bye week practices, Lavorato made a few minor tweaks to his defense unit that paid big dividends against Terra Nova.
"We moved guys around, but we (still ran) the same stuff," Lavorato said. "We put a couple of plays in and played a little more man. We just made some personnel decisions we felt we had to do to become a better defense. "
The Gators were especially effective stopping the Tigers' running game, which was held to 80 yards on 25 carries.
The only success Terra Nova found was through the air, as Tigers senior quarterback Joey Pledger threw for over 350 yards. But the Gators nullified Pledger's productivity by intercepting him twice and sacking him four times.
"Terra Nova likes to throw the ball, so the coaches really emphasized the secondary in practice," said defensive lineman Justin Harmon, who sacked Pledger twice. "For us on the line, they emphasized the pass rush and getting to gaps and staying low."
On offense, Sacred Heart quarterback Mason Randall was highly efficient throwing the ball deep down the field, completing nine of 11 passes for 283 yards and four touchdowns. Randall's favorite target on the day was fellow senior Nick O'Donnell, who caught four passes for 188 yards.
O'Donnell started the scoring for Sacred Heart in the first quarter, hauling in a long strike from Randle down the right sideline for an 80-yard touchdown. Sacred Heart's offense continued to roll on their next possession, as Randall found Dulsky deep over the middle for a 41-yard score.
Down 14-0, Terra Nova threatened to tighten the game up mid-way through the second quarter, driving 71 yards to set up first-and-goal at the Gators' 9-yard line.
But, the Sacred Heart defense stiffened in the red zone. Harmon sacked Pledger on first down, and Andrew Daschbach stopped a Terra Nova run in the backfield on second down.
After a Tigers penalty, one of 15 committed by Terra Nova in the game, the Gators forced an incomplete pass to set up a 37-yard field goal attempt. The ensuing kick did not travel far, as Harmon jumped up high at the line to block the attempt.
"I just kind of pushed off the guy in front and put my hand up," Harmon said with a laugh.
With plenty of momentum from the blocked field goal, Sacred Heart Prep quickly drove down the field and scored once again on a five-yard touchdown run from Lapitu Mahoni.
Just before the half, the Gators found the end zone once more, as Daschbach hauled in a 29-yard pass from Randall to give Sacred Heart Prep a 27-0 lead.
Terra Nova finally got on the scoreboard in the third quarter with a touchdown pass from Pledger to Tyler Shores, but Sacred Heart Prep continued to pad to their lead with touchdown runs from Mahoni and Isoa Moimoi.
Although a 55-yard touchdown pass from Pledger to Shores late in the fourth quarter gave Terra Nova double digits on the scoreboard, the Sacred Heart defense had already secured their best performance of the season.
"We tried before to tell our defensive kids that they're good, they just had to play like it," Lavorato said. "Today, they were just awesome."
As Sacred Heart continues on its PAL Bay Division action, the question becomes whether the Gators can duplicate their stellar defensive performance against Terra Nova.
"I think we are only going to get better from here," Dulsky said. "We've got a real young defense. The learning curve was the first few games. I think we got the kinks out of the way and now we're finding our groove."