After poor start, Sacred Heart Prep comes back but falls short in 27-15 loss. Sea Kings win first state football title with CIF Division III bowl game triumph.
RELATED: CIF Bowl Game Player Awards.
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The CIF State Championship Division III Bowl Game between Corona del Mar of Newport Beach and Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton looked like it might be a blowout after one quarter, but actually it turned into a pretty entertaining and record setting game.
In the end, despite only getting two field goals in the game’s final 36 minutes, the three touchdowns Corona del Mar put on the scoreboard to lead 21-0 at the end of the first quarter was more than enough points to secure the southwestern Orange County school its first-ever CIF state bowl game title with a 27-15 victory.
With the victory, Corona del Mar (16-0) also extended the state’s second-longest winning streak to 26 games, secured a fifth CIF bowl game championship for Orange County, and becomes the first school in state history to win 16 games.
“It feels great,” remarked 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior Luke Napolitano on quarterbacking a 16-0 team. “But the reason this team is 16-0 is because we have an amazing line and an amazing defense – and we’re a bunch of kids that love football and grew up playing together.”
What Corona del Mar did early on was score points in bunches.
After the Sea Kings received the opening kickoff, they promptly marched 75 yards in 11 plays, culminating in a five-yard TD pass from Napolitano to Bo St. Geme.
Then, when a three-and-out for Sacred Heart Prep ended in a desperation minus-2-yard punt after the ball was snapped over the head of the punter, Corona del Mar took advantage of a short field to make it 14-0 on another five-yard scoring pass, this time from Napolitano to Connor Sage.
Sacred Heart Prep then got the ball and crossed midfield on what looked like a promising drive when Corona del Mar free safety Barrett Barbato stepped in front of a Gators’ wide receiver and danced 58 yards down the sideline to paydirt.
Just as it appeared the rout was on, Sacred Heart Prep’s defense stiffened and returned the favor when Andrew Robinson picked off Napolitano and raced 37 yards for a score. The two-point conversion made it 21-8.
Sacred Heart Prep closed the gap to 21-15 at halftime when Ben Burr-Kirven turned on the jets and blew past everyone for a 47-yard TD run.
Unfortunately for the Gators’ faithful, that would be the last time their team would score, as three second half turnovers, two Division III Bowl Game record tying field goals by the Sea Kings’ kicker Jason Neiger, and the running of teammate Cole Martin closed the door on any comeback hopes.
Despite not finding the end zone, Martin, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior, finished with 157 yards on 28 carries, however 20 of the carries and 120 of the yards came in the second half when Corona del Mar head coach Scott Meyer was trying to control the game using his ground game.
For his efforts Martin was named the Cal-Hi Sports Unsung Hero, while Barbato, with his pick six and 10 tackles, was named the Cal-Hi Sports’ Most Valuable Player.
Sacred Heart Prep (13-2) got a stellar performance from Burr-Kirven that even drew raves from Orange County Register columnist Steve Fryer. “I really like the way that kid plays, his intensity, the way he hits, the way he’s around on almost every tackle. He can definitely play at the next level.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound junior linebacker and running back wasn’t in on every tackle but he did have a game-high 16 with one for loss, a forced fumble, and the long TD run and 78 yards rushing on offense.
Despite the loss, Sacred Heart Prep head coach Pete Lavorato, a five-time Grey Cup winner as a Canadian Football League player with his hometown Edmonton Eskimos, took the loss like a true pro.
“I’m proud of my boys and the fact they didn’t panic when we went down 21-0. All we could do was what we do all the time and that’s run the ball. We were just not able to finish things in the second half. It was frustrating. We’d get down there and then something would just happen. We haven’t turned it over that much all season, but I don’t want to say that to take anything away from them. They are a real good football team.”
With several skill players returning, including Birr-Kirven and sophomore quarterback Mason Randall, look for the Gators to be a force again next season.
As for the Sea Kings, no one can deny them the fact they are the first team to ever win 16 games in California in one season and then cap it off with a state championship, and they didn’t do it by playing less than stellar competition.
“It’s an amazing feeling to win a state title. Our players have been unbelievable all season long,” Meyer told Cal-Hi Sports. “We challenged our guys with a pretty tough non-league schedule. Once we started to win our non-league games we knew we had a shot to get to a regional bowl.”
Not only did the Sea Kings get to a Regional Bowl and win it, they’re now the kings of Division III football this season in the Golden State.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend