South City senior Soblessed Mauia front and center during the team’s traditional postgame Haka following the CCS Division V championship game Saturday night at MacDonald High School in San Jose. The Warriors knocked off Santa Teresa with a 13-7 victory to claim the CCS title. (Source: Jarrel Paloma)
Guts and glory: South City delivers CCS Division V football championship
By Terry Bernal Daily, Journal staff
November 25, 2023
SAN JOSE — As the South City Warriors celebrated with their customary postgame haka, head coach Kolone Pua watched from a distance, tearing up as he silently mouthed the words along with his players. With the thumping rhythmic cadence of the traditional Maori dance reaching its conclusion, however, no one howled louder than South City’s first-year head coach.
Considering what his team had just accomplished, it’s no wonder why. Just two years after a 2021 season when the South City football program seemed in ruins by not fielding a varsity team for the first time in the school’s history, the No. 3-seed Warriors (12-1) reveled in a 13-7 victory Saturday night over No. 4 Santa Teresa-San Jose at MacDonald High School in the Central Coast Section Division V championship game.
The win means assistant coach Frank Moro — who brought the Warriors back from the abyss as the team’s head coach last year and has announced he is retiring after the current season — will coach at least one more week as South City advances to the CIF Northern California regional championship.
South City football Kolone Pua
South City head coach Kolone Pua celebrates during the CCS Division V championship game Saturday night in San Jose. (Jarrel Paloma)
“For them, because we didn’t have a team two years ago, and they really wanted to send Frank out on a good win, and me to start off with a good win,” Pua said. “So, they were playing not just for themselves, but for us.”
It’s fitting a Warriors team that entered the year as one of the unlikeliest contenders for a CCS championship relied on an unlikely hero to take home the crown. Junior running back Marcus Mercurio had never recorded a 100-yard rushing game until Saturday, when he fronted South City’s gritty ground attack with 24 carries for 130 yards and both the team’s touchdowns.
“He was like a little bulldozer,” Pua said. “We just kept giving to him, and it was hard for them guys to stop.”
South City football Marcus Mercurio
South City running back Marcus Mercurio rushed for a career-high 130 yards on the CCS Division V championship stage Saturday night. (Terry Bernal/Daily Journal)
South City’s defense turned in another masterclass in shutout football. The Warriors have blanked five opponents this season, and the only points Santa Teresa (6-7) scored were on a blocked punt by Jacob Soria and a recovery in the end zone by Brian Caldwell on the second play of the second quarter to give the Saints a 7-0 lead.
It took the Warriors one quarter of lackluster offense to get things stirring, and the special-teams letdown served as a wakeup call. South City hadn’t recorded a first down to that point. But taking over on the ensuing kickoff at the 23, the Warriors’ ground game moved the chains four times before Mercurio scored on a 3-yard dive; yet a missed point-after try, due to a botched snap, left Santa Teresa leading 7-6.
South City safety Cisco Lutu, front, and Mercurio, right, stop a Santa Teresa run for no gain. (Terry Bernal/Daily Journal)
“Off the first few runs, I got very few yards, but I was just very consistent in my running,” Mercurio said. “So, my coach just thought, maybe if we just did small yards, one by one, we’ll get up there and get the touchdown. And clearly that worked. So, my coach just let me go heads-up with everybody.”
It was the guts displayed by the Warriors’ offense on the first possession of the second half that led to glory, though. It took South City 15 plays to move 74 yards, recording one third-down conversion and two fourth-down conversions on the go-ahead drive.
“I told them: ‘If you really want this, I’m going to let you go for it on fourth down,’” Pua said. “I just left it in their hands, and this was the outcome that we get.”
Mercurio carried the ball five times on the drive and accounted for the third-down pickup and one of the fourth-down conversions. The junior relied on running back Elijah Fields, who totaled 20 carries for 79 yards, as a blocking back, while 5-9 junior left guard Noah Gomez helped pave the way through the middle by contending with Santa Teresa’s 6-3 senior defensive tackle Tevita Pekipaki.
“We started doing a lot of inside runs, instead of sweeps or tosses, because they were just shutting that down,” Gomez said. “We were going back to our bread and butter, which is just pure inside zones, inside runs, isos. That was really what worked. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It was Fields who initially extended the drive on fourth-and-4 from the Saints’ 42 with a 14-yard sweep around the right side. Later, and third-and-9 at the 27, the Warriors got fortunate when a pass by quarterback Anthony Howell was batted into the air by his own receiver, then popped into and out of the hands of a Santa Teresa defender before falling into the arms of South City receiver Darren Miller.
Miller’s catch only went for 4 yards, not enough to move the sticks, but kept the Warriors offense on the field for Mercurio to extend the drive with a short run for a fourth-down conversion. Four plays later, Mercurio blasted into the end zone on a 3-yard scoring run to put South City ahead 13-7 with 5:26 to go in the third quarter.
South City outgained Santa Teresa 272-118 in total yards.
“Tonight, the defense held its own as long as it could,” Santa Teresa head coach Steve Papin said, “and we didn’t help them out offensively at all.”
While Saints running back Ezekiel Herena provided a majority of his team’s offense with 16 carries for 60 rushing yards, it was South City’s clutch defense on Santa Teresa’s pass plays that saved the day.
Saints quarterback Brenton Gaches had one deep shot denied in the first quarter when Miller streaked to the sideline from the safety position to disrupt a potential catch that receiver Kayin Lawson already had in his arms but could not control after Miller knocked it loose. Then midway through the fourth quarter, South City cornerback Justice Goodman averted disaster by defending a deep ball intended for Jaren Morris inside the 5.
Santa Teresa was its own worst enemy at times, though, committing three turnovers in the game. South City cornerback Cisco Lutu produced one with a leaping interception on a deep pass in the late in the third quarter, reading a wheel route to put himself in the right spot when Gaches put one up for grabs.
“After I seen it went up, I closed my eyes and came down with the ball,” Lutu said.
The Saints got the ball back for the last time with 2:46 to play, but quick pass completion ended in disaster when the ball was stripped and South City senior Payton Jackson jumped on it for the fumble recovery, all but anointing the Warriors as CCS Division V champs.
South City senior Payton Jackson, right, and Ryder DeAsis celebrate a fumble recovery in the closing minutes Saturday night in San Jose. (Terry Bernal/Daily Journal)
“We’ve been here before, but the moment was just too big for our guys,” Papin said. “They wanted it more.”
They certainly did. The Warriors seemed to have the entire city of South San Francisco packed into one side of MacDonald High’s football complex. And in the wake of the victory, the crown set off an entire round of elaborate fireworks as the team celebrated on the field.
Payton Jackson, right, hoists the CCS championship trophy Saturday night.(Jarrel Paloma)
“It feels great,” Mercurio said. “We made history. I never thought I’d play football growing up, but here I am and now everything feels good.”
https://www.smdailyjournal.com/sports/local/guts-and-glory-south-city-delivers-ccs-division-v-football-championship/article_3a06109a-8c4d-11ee-952a-5383059012f4.html Source: San Mateo Daily Journal