SAN MATEO, Calif. — All the time Terence Loville spent playing video games paid off.
With his Serra Padres clinging to a four-point lead in the third quarter of Saturday’s Northern California Division 1-A Championship, he saw a screen pass coming, jumped the route and snatched it for a 28-yard pick-six, just like he had done so many times playing NCAA Football throughout his childhood.
“I heard it from the sidelines,” Loville said of the play. “The coaches said to expect China, which is an out and a corner, so as soon as the quarterback turned his hips to me, I knew, ‘Oh, that’s a pick-six.’”
That interception, which injected life into the Padres after early offensive explosiveness gave way to a defensive standoff in the rain, held up as one of the decisive plays in Serra’s 28-18 victory over San Joaquin Memorial to advance to a state championship game for the third time in four years.
While Loville’s pick-six didn’t force the visiting Panthers into submission, it held up as the decisive score in a second half where each offense found the end zone just once as Serra (13-1) led for all but the first three minutes of the game. The hosts came roaring out of the gates despite a three-and-out on their opening possession, forcing a turnover on downs as SJM quarterback Finn Collins slipped in the backfield on a fourth-and-one. Hassan Mahasin took a Dominique Lampkin screen pass for a 40-yard touchdown on the very next play, and the Padres would get the ball back and score again just 77 seconds later. Panthers star receiver Jalen McMillan, a Washington commit, lost his grip on the ball at the end of a 14-yard reception that was ruled a catch and fumble rather than an incomplete pass. David Silk dove on it for the hosts, and Lampkin scampered up the middle for a 51-yard score immediately after, making the score 14-0 in favor of the Padres.
That left San Joaquin Memorial (12-2) playing from behind the entire way, answering with a 46-yard Collins pass to De’Von King. The Panthers would get to within three on a 24-yard Carlo Bravo field goal in the second quarter and threatened to take the lead before halftime, with 20-mile per hour winds at their backs as they drove. A 38-yard Jordan Hornbeak run took them across midfield, and they got bailed out by the Padres after fumbling their own snap for a loss of 13 when Damon Lewis dropped a surefire interception in the end zone. Nate Sanchez nearly picked off a pass on the following play, and on fourth down, Lewis found redemption by tipping a pass away from a lunging McMillan to take the hosts into the break with the lead, 14-10. He did suffer a hip injury on the play, taking him out of his kicking and punting duties, but Adrian Primo made both extra points in his place and Lewis continued to fill a major role in the secondary.
“Our coaches spend so much time on film and always put us in the right spot,” he said. “We just have to go out there and execute.”
Just as the Panthers answered the two early Serra touchdowns, they’d respond again after Loville’s interception which had made the score 21-10, scoring two plays into the fourth on Hornbeak’s three-yard run. Sophomore linebacker Andrew Stewart blew up the potential two-point conversion to ensure Memorial wouldn’t need just a field goal, maintaining a five-point Serra advantage, and the Padre offense followed it up with their one sustained drive of the game when they needed it most. Over the next 7:35, they’d cover 86 yards over the course of 14 plays to ice the game, converting a pair of third downs and a fourth down in the process. Mahasin and Sanchez had their fingerprints all over the drive, with a 14-yard Mahasin gain to move the sticks and Sanchez picking up 20 on a screen to convert on third down and cross midfield. Facing another third down, this time needing 11 yards from the Memorial 45, Loville picked a fantastic time for his lone catch of the day, a leaping 19-yard reception. Mahasin, playing by far his best game against an elite opponent, ran to the outside to convert fourth-and-2, and Jackson Lataimua’s five-yard touchdown run with 3:47 left sealed the victory, giving Serra a 28-16 lead.
Technically, there was still more football to play, but Silk’s second takeaway of the game, an interception near the end zone, ensured the Padres wouldn’t even need to recover an onside kick in the waning moments. An intentional safety with 34 seconds left ensured the hosts wouldn’t need to punt out of their own end zone and provided the final points for the day.
Once again, it was a collective team effort for Serra, with Silk’s pair of takeaways changing the game. The 18 points the Padres allowed were the most any team had scored on them since Oct. 18, a testament to their defense throughout the year. Mahasin, the soft-spoken sophomore, had 46 yards on 13 carries and 52 receiving yards on four catches, while Sanchez’s five catches went for 63 yards. Lampkin finished the day with just 29 rushing yards, getting stopped behind the line on all but three of his nine carries but making the most of those with the 51-yard score. The nine carries were tied for his lowest since becoming the starter, a product of his developed comfort as a passer. He completed 14 of 17 passes for 159 yards, flicking screen passes with ease and finding Loville on the deep ball when needed.
“We’re deep,” Walsh said. “We have a lot of talent on this team, whether it’s Hassan, Terence or Nate, and the defense has been absolutely fantastic.”
While Mahasin’s other best games had come against lesser opponents, Saturday’s was against a top-notch team, and it’s a moment the sophomore had been waiting for since his earliest days.
“I’ve been working on this since I was five or six years old,” he said. “It felt great.”
For the Panthers, McMillan had nine catches for 113 yards in his final high school game, breaking the century mark on the final play. Fresno State commit Mac Dalena had 53 yards on four reception and Hornbeak, a junior, ran 19 times for 129 yards. Collins, also a member of the Class of 2021, went 17-for-35 through the air for 256 yards.
Serra will face Corona del Mar (15-0), led by Washington-bound quarterback Ethan Garbers, next Saturday at 4 p.m. in the CIF Division 1-A Championship at Cerritos College.