With Sacred Heart Prep seniors Mason Randall and Andrew Daschbach possibly playing in the final home game of their high school football careers, it was no surprise the three-year starters once again played a major role in another Gators' victory.
Perhaps the only minor shock was that their contributions culminated in a record-breaking performance against a previously unbeaten Burlingame squad on Friday.
Daschbach caught 12 passes from Randall for three touchdowns and a school-record 251 receiving yards, as Sacred Heart Prep kept its PAL Bay Division championship dreams alive by defeating the visiting Panthers, 42-33, on Senior Day.
"After the last touchdown (to Daschbach) we embraced and I think we both started crying a little bit," Randall said. "Just because it's our last game here and to go out this way with a big win, it's everything I could have ever imagined."
The Gators overcame last week's disappointing three-point loss against Menlo-Atherton and scored 42 points against a Panthers team that had not allowed more than 21 in any game this season. Sacred Heart (3-1, 5-3) now sits tied for second in the division with Burlingame, one game behind the Bears. M-A thumped host Terra Nova on Friday, 49-28.
"It would be great to win a PAL Bay championship, but bottom line is we're in the (CCS) playoffs now," head coach Pete Lavorato said. "That was a huge relief for me."
Daschbach, in particular, bounced back after suffering through a rough stretch the past few weeks.
The senior tight end injured his right thumb two weeks ago, and has to wear a bulky bandage around his hand while playing. Additionally, Daschbach came down with hives before last week's game, and could only play one offensive series before leaving the game after experiencing difficulty breathing.
But none of Daschbach's ailments seemed to affect him against the Panthers. The Sacred Heart coaches found a bevy of ways to get him the ball, from screen passes to deep routes down the field, and Daschbach hauled in every pass thrown in his vicinity.
By the third quarter, he had already passed his previous single-game high of 127 receiving yards, set last season at Burlingame.
"I've never had a day like this before," said Daschbach, who will play baseball at Stanford next year. "It was a fun one for sure."
Even with Daschbach terrorizing their defense, Burlingame still elected to load up the box throughout the game in order to slow down the Sacred Heart running attack. In response, the Gators allowed Randall to throw the ball a season-high 23 times. He completed 17 for 297 yards.
"I love that coach (Lovarato) is comfortable with me throwing the ball whatever down or distance it is," said Randle, who also added two rushing touchdowns. "It makes it so much more fun. I think the fans like it, too."
On defense, Sacred Heart's linebackers played well against a run-heavy Panthers' offense, as junior David Peterson and senior Zane Elsafy each recorded 10 tackles.
"It was tough for the defense, they're a good football team," Lavorato said. "There's a reason why they were undefeated."
The Gators had trouble stopping the Burlingame run game at the onset of the game, as the Panthers' opening drive consisted of nine rushes for 65 yards and a touchdown.
Burlingame threatened to open up a big early advantage after recovering the ball on the ensuing kickoff, but Panthers running back Joevani Garcia fumbled at the Sacred Heart 1-yard line, and defensive back Thomas Wine snatched up the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Five plays later, Randall found Daschbach deep down the left sideline for a 59-yard touchdown pass to tie the score.
After both teams traded rushing touchdowns in the second quarter, the third quarter opened with three Daschbach catches for 51 yards, and ended with a one-yard touchdown run from Randall.
"It's tough when we have Nick (O'Donnell) and Daschbach," Randall said. "They can't really guard them both. Today they decided to guard Nick, so that meant Daschbach was open."
On the Panthers' next possession, quarterback, Cameron Kelaita fumbled the ball inside his own 10-yard line, and Elsafy dived on the ball to give the Gators another great scoring opportunity.
Lapitu Mahoni ran in a one-yard score two plays later and, 3 1/2 minutes into the second half, Sacred Heart Prep suddenly had a 14-point lead.
But, the Panthers quickly responded. Vinny Ferrari ran back the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to the Gators 10-yard line, setting up a touchdown run from Garcia to bring Burlingame within seven.
Sacred Heart answered, driving down the field to the Panthers' 30-yard line, but faced a fourth-and-10 after three straight incompletions from Randall.
In perhaps the pivotal play of the game, the Gators decided to leave their offense on the field and trust their senior quarterback to make the right decision. Randall found his favorite target open again, as Daschbach hauled in a catch at the 10-yard line, broke a tackle, and ran into the end zone for a 30-yard score.
"That's who we are, fourth down we go for it most of the time," Lavorato said. "The kids like it when we go for it."
After another touchdown run from Burlingame opened up the fourth quarter, the Gators methodically marched down the field on a 14-play drive that included a big fourth-down conversion on a run from Mahoni.
The drive ended with Randall hooking up with Daschbach one last time for a 20-yard touchdown to open up a 15-point lead.
Garcia ran in one last touchdown for Burlingame with 36 seconds left, but Elsafy blocked the extra-point attempt to seal the Gators' victory.
Sacred Heart finishes its regular-season schedule with two road games against Aragon and Menlo, and Daschbach felt the Gators' best was still yet to come.
"We're happy with this win, but I wouldn't say we're satisfied," Daschbach said. "There's still a lot of work to be done."
Menlo-Atherton 49, Terra Nova 28
The Bears took over sole possession of first place in the PAL Bay Division with its fifth straight victory, a surprisingly romp over the host Tigers in Pacifica.
Menlo-Atherton improved to 4-0 in league (5-3 overall) heading into next week's showdown at previously unbeaten Burlingame (3-1, 7-1). A victory will give the Bears the outright division title.
Jordan Mims led the Bears with three touchdowns, including two scoring receptions plus a 50-yard run. He finished with 12 carries for 78 yards.
Fullback Stavro Papadakis had a 60-yard touchdown run to give the Bears a 28-7 lead in the third period. He led the Bears with 93 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Justin Friedsam added an 8-yard TD reception from Miles Conrad, Jack Gray had a 75-yard interception return and Marquise Reid had a 75-yard kick return for a score. The Bears rushed for 187 yards and passed for 134.
Palo Alto 45, Homestead 7
Most likely playing in his final home game, senior Eli Givens got the Vikings off to a great start with a 93-yard kickoff return to spark an easy win over the visiting Mustangs.
Palo Alto improved to 3-2 in the SCVAL De Anza Division (4-5 overall) heading into a bye week. The Vikings will wrap up their regular season the following Friday at Wilcox.
Max Dorward caught a 10-yard pass from Justin Hull in the second quarter to give Paly all the points it needed with a 14-0 lead. Givens got his second TD just into the second quarter on a 47-yard scoring reception from Hull.
Paul Jackson III later added touchdown runs of 61 and 3 yards while rushing for more than 100 yards.
Santa Clara 60, Gunn 7
The Titans' dismal season continued as they fell to 0-5 in the SCVAL El Camino Division (0-9 overall) after being routed by the first-place Bruins (4-0, 7-1).
Pinewood 60, Anzar 42
The Panthers tuned up for next week's showdown with rival Priory by romping past host Anzar in a nonleague eight-man contest in Hollister. Pinewood improved to 2-2 in league (5-2 overall). The teams met earlier in a Mission Trail Athletic League game, with Pinewood winning by 54-44.
Friday's game was back and forth in the first half with Pinewood leading at the break, 24-20. Jaeden Bailey had three first-half touchdown passes -- to Sean Murphy, Kyle Murphy and Connor Riches. Sean Murphy also had a kickoff return for a touchdown.
Pinewood pulled ahead the second half on three touchdown runs by Kyle Murphy (one of 70 yards) and a fake punt run for a touchdown by Alex Banning.
Menlo School 14, South SF 13
Fueled by a persistent defense, the Knights stopped the host Warriors in a PAL Ocean Division contest. Menlo (2-2, 6-2) made a huge stop when the Warriors tried for a conversion after a touchdown with 5.6 seconds to go. The Knights stopped the attempt, and held on for the win.
All of Menlo's scoring came on fumble returns. Hayden Pegley scooped up a SSF fumble, then shook off several defenders, finishing with a 59-yard return for a TD with 2:17 left in the game.
"They ran a sweep to the left, and one of our players disrupted something and it just seemed like it popped out in front of me," Pegley said. "All I had to do was pick it up and run. I was afraid I was going to get caught but fortunately, I was able to get there."
Evan King, another junior, was the first to score for Menlo as he picked up a South City fumble and then bolted 75 yards to give Menlo a 7-0 lead with 4:09 left in the first half. Three minutes later, the Warriors scored to tie the game.
Menlo's Charlie Ferguson again had a 100-yard rushing game with 108 yards in 18 carries.
South City (0-4 PAL) was undone by its penalties; the Warriors committed 14 penalties for 147 yards.
Menlo next plays at first-place Hillsdale (4-0, 7-1), which handed Half Moon Bay its first loss of the season Friday. -- Menlo Athletics