December 7, 2013
SAN JOSE - The final seconds ticked off the clock at frigid San Jose City College as Serra quarterback Matt Fa'aita took a knee. On the sideline Padre players whooped and hollered and drenched their coach Patrick Walsh with the inevitable Gatorade bath.
Serra had won its first Central Coast Section Open Division title, defeating Mitty 21-7 ... and the party was just beginning for the Padres.
A little farther down the Serra sideline, athletic director Dean Ayoob managed a sigh of relief and said "It's been a long time in coming."
Indeed it has for the program that was twice turned away on the cusp of the goal line in two gut-wrenching losses to Bellarmine last season, including a devastating setback in the section semifinals.
"It feels real good," said Walsh, still dripping from his impromptu shower. "There's been a lot of suffering moments - a lot of Padres who have had a lot of tough losses in this Open Division. This is a historic school win not only for this group but for all those Padres (from years past). There's nothing like the Serra Padre brotherhood. We're going to pass this along to all the brothers."
Yeah, they partied like it was it 1968 along the soggy Serra sideline, only with a lot more mircophones and flashing cameras and ready tape recorders capturing the sights and sounds than the last time the Padres had known such glory.
"It feels great," said Fa'aita who made one clutch pass after another in the second half. "This is what we wanted from the beginning of the season and we finally reached it. Words can't express how good it feels. I'm just happy for the seniors. I'm happy for everyone right now."
Probably nobody in royal blue felt better than Walsh, who took over the reigns of a middling program in 2001 and has won four league titles and a CCS DI title, but never an Open championship - until Friday night.
Walsh talks constantly about brotherhood. This week he showed the Padres a picture of a surfer flying off a cliff and urged his kids to play with the same abandon. He also referenced Rudyard Kipling's "If" -- as in "IF you can keep your head when all about you are losing their and blaming it on you" ...
It sounds pretty new age-y, but it's only crazy if it doesn't work, as the saying goes. Down 7-0 following Dakari Monroe's 74-yard touchdown sprint late in the third quarter, the Padres had ample opportunity to lose their poise and fold up their tents. Instead, they bounced back.
"We just kept our heads up and kept doing what we were doing," Serra defensive lineman Daniel Lavulo said. "It was just one big play that killed us. But we shrugged off the adversity and dominated."
Backed up to its own 12 and facing a third-and-18 late in the third quarter, Fa'aita coolly threw a 28-yard strike running back Kava Cassidy for a first down. Moments later they were at the Monarch 30 and Fa'aita hit Hamilton Anoa'i over the middle at the 15. The big receiver spun loose and sprinted to the end zone to make it 7-7.
"I was just thinking 'I gotta score. Gotta score," Anoa'i said. "We needed a big play and I tried to step up for our team and that's what i did."
Then came the game's key defensive play. Padre cornerback Vince Camp picked off a pass on the Monarch 40 and returned it to the Mitty 9-yard line. That set up Fa'aita's 1-yard sneak with 10:52 left that gave Serra the lead for good.
"The coach just told me to keep my eye on the vertical," Camp said. "The tight end did a crossing route and I just did my 1/11 and read the quarterback and read the ball and just picked it off. I was real happy when i saw the ball in the air."
Serra later added a 2-yard TD run by Kevin McGee. Then all that was left was for the final minutes to melt away and the Padres to exult -- which they did quite heartily, rushing to the railing in front of their cheering section to receive congratulations.
For Serra a regional game still awaits and then maybe, just maybe, a trip to the StubHub Center in Carson for the state playoff bowl. But for now the Padres can celebrate something no other team in school history has been able to, not even the 1968 super team that included Lynn Swann in that pre-playoff era.
"It feels good - CCS Open Division champions," Camp said. "Making history for the school. It's all good."
John Murphy may be reached at jmurphy@Prep2Prep.com. Follow him on Twitter @PrepCat.