LOS GATOS — Bellarmine’s season was eight yards from being over Friday night. That’s what separated Los Gatos from the end zone in the final minute with the score tied in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs.
But defensive back Thomas Divittorio turned the emotions for both teams upside down when he intercepted a tipped pass and started running.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” the senior said.
Divittorio’s 94-yard pick-six with 43.6 seconds left lifted Bellarmine to a 34-27 victory over Los Gatos that moves the third-seeded Bells into the semifinals next weekend.
Los Gatos finished 10-1.
The sixth-seeded Wildcats, playing on their home field, were on the verge of an epic victory when senior Jake Ripp, a Boise State commit, intercepted a pass near midfield and returned the ball to the Bellarmine 23 with 1:12 left.
Los Gatos reached the 8 as it marched toward the end zone where its student section stood and cheered all night because Bellarmine, as the designated home team, packed the home bleachers.
On second down from the 8, Los Gatos called a pass play for the 6-foot-3 Ripp on the right side, a play that had worked several times during the season, coach Mark Krail said.
“They tipped the ball at the line of scrimmage,” Krail added. “We all saw it. It’s just one of those things. That’s a brutal way to lose a game.
“Of all ways to lose a game, that was probably the toughest I’ve ever had.”
Bellarmine quarterback Wade Smith had similar thoughts about himself when the decisive drive he hoped to lead ended with Ripp’s interception that left the Bells staring at defeat.
“I will definitely say that went from being momentarily like the worst night of my entire life to one of the better nights of my entire life,” Smith said. “I just got to say thank you to Divo and thank you to everyone else on the rest of our team, pushing through all four quarters tonight.”
The game was tight throughout, with the teams matching one another score for score, big play for big play.
Tied 13-13 at halftime, Bellarmine opened the second half with an 80-yard drive that ended with the first of Gino Cresci’s two touchdown runs, this one from 14 yards out.
Cresci was filling in for Ben Pfaff, who went down with a leg injury three plays into the third quarter.
Los Gatos pulled even 20-20 when Krail dug into his bag of tricks for the second time in the game. On this one, Alejandro Quijada threw a pass on an end-around to Quinn Merritt, the 18-yard completion tying the score with 2:49 left in the third.
Jake Boyd’s 2-yard sneak gave Los Gatos a 27-20 lead with 7:38 to go.
But the Bells answered again, driving 68 yards to pull even 27-27 with 4:45 left. Cresci scored the touchdown on a 17-yard run.
It remained tied until Divittorio’s stunning play.
“This is definitely one to remember,” Divittorio said. “I am so thankful to my family, my teammates especially. I love every single one of them right now.
“It was a great atmosphere. Their fans, it was a hostile environment. It was definitely fun.”
Thomas Divittorio’s pick six to win it in final minute. Bellarmine 34, Los Gatos 27 | @bcpfootball @BCPSports @WCALSports @leftwich @VytasMazeika @KasselMedia pic.twitter.com/ICH4wUNceF — Darren Sabedra (@DarrenSabedra) November 13, 2021
Bellarmine had the game’s first scoring opportunity when Smith ran 31 yards on a keeper to the 3 in the opening quarter. But the Bells fumbled on the next play, keeping the game scoreless.
Los Gatos responded with the first touchdown of the night as the Wildcats dialed up a trick play to reach the end zone.
On fourth and 12 from the Los Gatos 43, punter Jaylen Thomas threw a short pass to Lucas White, who was wide open in the right flat. The senior tight end ran down the sideline, made a cut, stumbled but kept his footing and crossed the goal line right in front of the Los Gatos student section.
The Wildcats led 7-0.
Bellarmine cut the deficit to 7-6 on a 1-yard pass from Smith to Pfaff. A misplayed snap on the PAT kept Los Gatos on top by a point.
Pfaff’s 5-yard run in front of a team of blockers gave Bellarmine its first advantage. The PAT made it 13-7 with 1:12 left in the half.
But a strong kick return, coupled with a blocking penalty on Bellarmine, put Los Gatos at the Bells 44. The Wildcats took advantage of the field position, scoring a touchdown on a 2-yard run by Emiliano Mejia.
The PAT sailed wide left, leaving the score 13-13 as the teams went to the locker room at halftime.
The first half was good.
The second half was even better.