SAN JOSE — Here’s how this past week began for Santa Teresa’s football team:
“Monday was basically a firing squad of kids’ complaints towards coaches, a firing squad,” said Nick Alfano, the program’s longtime head coach. “It was ugly. It was just a barrage. I literally went home thinking this might be my last year. This might be it. Maybe I’m not the man for the job anymore.”
Here is how the week ended: Players and coaches posing for pictures in the end zone at Oak Grove, celebrating the program’s first victory over its neighborhood rival since 1988.
Friday’s final: Santa Teresa 20, Oak Grove 6.
Tradition-rich Oak Grove clearly is not having the best of seasons. But neither was Santa Teresa.
The Saints were 1-3 when they showed up for practice last Monday, a practice Alfano planned to cut short so he could meet with his coaches to formulate the best possible game plan for an Oak Grove team that had won 22 consecutive games in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mt. Hamilton Division dating to 2013.
But the coaches’ meeting never happened.
When Alfano asked the players if they had questions, they responded mightily.
“One win doesn’t change that, but at the same time the kids getting their emotions out sort of opened up the door to heal,” Alfano said Friday night. “Ironically enough, we didn’t even get to meet after because by the time I was done in the firing squad, it was the time practice would’ve been over any way. It’s been a pretty roller coaster week. I am not going to lie.”
Even as late as Thursday, there were still no signs that Santa Teresa was suddenly going to find magic.
“We cut our practice short yesterday,” Alfano said. “We cut it short because we couldn’t practice against air. We ran four offensive plays at practice yesterday. We jumped offside. We threw the ball into the ground against air. I am thinking, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.’ Then I don’t know what happened. They bought in finally.”
Alfano couldn’t say enough good things about his defense, which gave up an early touchdown while trying to defend a short field and then shut down Oak Grove the rest of the game.
Anthony Cortes intercepted two passes, and Santa Teresa also recovered a fumble.
“Honestly, our defense pounded them,” Alfano said. “They scored early because we were pinned down. Then after that, our defense did an awesome job. Offensively, our line, which we have been struggling all year, finally stepped up. And all the coaches did a great job.”
In the locker room before the game, the coaches kept the message simple.
“Play your butt off and let’s just see what happens,” Alfano said. “And the closer the game stayed, the more confident our kids got. They were able to kind of grow together. It worked out well for us tonight. I hope we can continue. It was pretty amazing honestly.”
In many ways, the victory was sort of like landing a long-awaited punch against the neighborhood bully. It’s no secret that Oak Grove’s decades of success has made it more attractive for football players in South San Jose than Santa Teresa.
“Over the years we’ve lost a lot of kids to Oak Grove, left here and gone there, including this year,” Alfano said. “We lost arguably one of our starting running backs. Went to Oak Grove the week before school started. We lost five kids last year to Oak Grove. They just got up and transferred. They said they’ve got a better chance to win there. It’s a little bit of retribution, obviously, but in a respectful way because they’re still a great program. Just because you win one doesn’t mean the whole world is going to change. We’ve got a find a way to keep it happening, not only against them but everybody else.”
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