ORLANDO—The Santa Cruz Seahawks Pop Warner football team had been on a mission since the season started in August.
They beat the Morgan Hill Raiders to capture the Pacific Northwest Regional title and earned a trip to Florida to play the nation’s best teams.
They capped off their spectacular year by going 3-0 in a six-day span at the 64th Pop Warner Super Bowl championships.
The Seahawks beat Florida’s Port Charlotte Bandits, 28-8, for the 12U Division I national title at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Dec. 12.
“I was happy because it took all that hard work from the beginning of the season,” Free Safety Curtis Torres of Watsonville said. “Our head coach, Jake Clark, said that his goal was to win a national championship at the end of the year.”
With the win, the Seahawks (13-0) became the second team from the Bay Area to win a Pop Warner national title. Oak Grove won the D-I title in 2006.
Torres, a 7th-grader at Watsonville Charter School of the Arts, along with his teammates posed with their new trophy all over Camping World Stadium. They also took the trophy on their bus, seated it at the bar and put it on a recliner near the pool.
The Seahawks—who are comprised of kids throughout Santa Cruz County from Watsonville up to Felton—outscored their three opponents in Florida by a combined score of 92-20.
Torres, who is one of eight kids from Watsonville, said it felt great to prove to the other teams that they were capable of not only playing with the best, but winning the tournament.
“They thought we were all surfers and stuff because we’re from Santa Cruz,” Torres said.
The Seahawks opened the tournament with a 31-6 win over the previously unbeaten Connecticut champion Danbury Trojans in the quarterfinals on Dec. 5. Santa Cruz beat Texas’ Westlake Chaps 33-6 in the semifinals on Dec. 8.
The Bandits also had a stout defense that hadn’t allowed a point in its previous two games. They beat California’s Escondido Wolves, 33-0, in the quarterfinals and Pennsylvania’s Northampton Indians, 30-0, in the semifinals.
Santa Cruz became the first team in the tourney to score on Port Charlotte. Jordan Ramirez opened the scoring on a 22-yard run with 4 minutes, and 30 seconds in the first quarter and then added a 77-yard touchdown run with 11 seconds in the half.
Lazaro Faraj-Washington added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, on runs of seven and three yards.
Bruce Blanden scored for the Bandits late in the fourth quarter.
Seahawks coach Jake Clark said in an email that for them to dominate a national tournament like that was incredibly rare. He added that they gave up at most six first downs in three games.
Santa Cruz had eight first-year players suit up and it also dealt with adversity. They lost one of their best players, running back/strong safety Maverick Muse, to injury before the season started.
They also lost backup quarterback/running back Devon Williams to injury in Week 5. So, it was the next guy up and they found 85-pound quarterback Ryder Quilici, who ran the Delaware Wing-T offense right down to the tee.
“The boys can’t fully understand it because it’s all they really know,” Clark said.
Clark said the kids were executing college-level game plans at 12 years old. The defense they ran is from NCAA Division I TCU and the offensive style they ran has been in college and the professional level for 100 years.
“For them to be able to execute all this stuff at a high level speaks to their collective intelligence and work ethic,” Clark said. “We only had two hours’ worth of practice to prepare for Port Charlotte, and our boys knew everything they were gonna do and took away all their best plays.”
Other players that made an impact in the title game were defensive end/left tackle Kane Humecky, linebackers Keyandre Bailey and Faraj-Washington.
This particular group of players posted a 38-1 record over the past three seasons.
Seahawks assistant coach and Torres’ dad, Robert Torres, said they sacrificed a lot during the trip, and the season, but it was well worth it in the end.
“They’re 12-year-olds and it’s hard to keep them tamed, sit down in one spot,” he said. “But they did it. The ultimate goal and they conquered it, it was awesome.”
The San Francisco 49ers and Santa Cruz Warriors want to recognize the Seahawks on their recent accomplishments. The team is currently working on a plan to purchase tickets for the players.