Garrett Gavello had a delayed reaction. He stood in the end zone, the ball cradled in his arms, while his teammates were excitedly running toward the team bench whooping and hollering and generally carrying on like they'd found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
"At first I didn't realize what it meant when I caught the ball," Gavello said. "When I looked around only Dominic (Cacchione) was left. It was unbelievable. I mean, Menlo played so well and we just never gave up."
There were 53.2 seconds remaining to play in Friday's nonleague football game at Foothill College when Gavello caught a two-point conversion pass from Sacred Heart Prep quarterback Brad Yaffe that gave the Gators (3-6) a 25-24 victory over Menlo (6-3) in an instant classic of a rivalry game.
"I haven't ever been in a game this intense," SHP lineman Liam Shaughnessy said. "I was so nervous yesterday that I started throwing up. I'm just so happy we did it. We wanted this like nothing else."
How Sacred Heart Prep even got into position to win bends the corners of logic. A fake punt, a pass interference call and a herculean effort from John Willard gave the Gators first and goal on the 10.
With just about three minutes remaining, Sacred Heart Prep's drive stalled and Yaffe was thrown for a 24-yard loss on a fourth down play that felt like a last gasp.
Menlo went ahead, 24-17, with 8:05 remaining when Emilio Simbeck, who threw for a career-high 278 yards and three touchdowns, connected on a 15-yard scoring toss with David Schmaier. The Knights traveled 65 yards in nine plays for the go-ahead score, 61 through an effective aerial attack.
When Menlo took over late in the game, they were in running-out-the-clock mode. The Knights fumbled its first carry but maintained possession. Simbeck tried a short pass but it fell short.
Suddenly, the Gators were getting the ball back. Yaffe was 3-of-5 for 50 yards over a 57-second stretch that included a 36-yard pass to Cacchione and a pair of 12-yard completions, the second a diving catch by Kyle Cody in the end zone.
The Gators returned to the same play that cost Yaffe 24 yards at the end of the previous possession.
"This is the happiest I've ever been," Yaffe said. "This game was won four years ago when the seniors got together and committed to working hard for this moment. The line play was incredible. Those guys stepped up. All the guys stepped up. We were all healthy and we worked at it."
Tevita Moimoi an important cog in SHP's running game, was able to play and he made a big difference, rushing for 84 yards.
Gavello also produced a big play, intercepting a pass and going 22 yards for the score, giving SHP a 17-10 lead.
"They ran that play a few times before and I figured I could jump on it one time," Gavello said.
Menlo followed with its own big play, a short shovel pass that Dillon Grady turned into a 73-yard touchdown. A pair of SHP players tripped over each other to clear the way.
"It was a great contest all the way to the end," Menlo coach Mark Newton said. "I am proud of the way the seniors played. Emilio played a great game."
The Knights were without running back Aidan Israelski for the third straight game and it's likely he's finished for the season.
"It's a shame," said Newton. "He's one of the best we've ever had."
Grady, who is also one of Menlo's top defenders, added a 26-yard field goal.
SHP's Peter Larson also came up big, adding a 45-yard field goal on the last play of the first half. The ball cleared the crossbar with plenty of room to spare.
Sacred Heart Prep hosts undefeated Half Moon Bay at 2:45 p.m. Friday in the regular-season finale while Menlo travels to Sequoia for a 7 p.m. game Thursday.
In another nonleague game, Menlo-Atherton (6-3) beat host Woodside, 45-6, and will host Aragon in a PAL Bay Division contest Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Wildcats (0-9) host South San Francisco at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
In a SCVAL El Camino Division affair, host Fremont topped Gunn, 47-8. The Titans (3-6, 1-3) host Mountain View at 7 p.m. Friday.
D.J. Barnes caught a 35-yard pass from Solomone Paletua for Gunn's only touchdown. Paletua converted the two-point try.