By Stephanie Hammon

shammon@bayareanewsgroup.com

SAN MATEO -- Patrick Walsh nearly brought the De La Salle High football team's Northern California unbeaten streak to a halt Saturday, more than 20 years after the former Spartan star helped launch it.

For the third time in seven tries against his alma mater, the Serra-San Mateo head football coach and his Padres gave the Spartans all they could handle. But like in the 2008 and 2009 meetings, De La Salle pulled off another escape job, this time coming from behind in the fourth quarter to win 21-14 on a hot Saturday afternoon.

De La Salle left the field relieved to have avoided the upset and have its NorCal unbeaten streak intact at 238 games.

"How (Serra) played is exactly how I thought they were going to," said De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh, a close friend of Walsh's. "It's exactly how (Walsh) coaches and how he played. They play with a lot of toughness and those guys outhit us."

After De La Salle (2-0) lost two of its top players to significant injuries, backup safety John Quinn set up the winning drive. With four minutes left and the score knotted at 14-14, Quinn intercepted Serra quarterback Matthew Fa'aita and returned the ball about 20 yards to the Serra 10-yard line.

Two plays later, De La Salle's Chris Williams was in the end zone on a quarterback sneak. The Spartans sealed the win by sacking Fa'aita on fourth down and running out the clock.

"We can only build from here, but it's a miserable feeling," said Walsh, a running back on De La Salle's 1991 and 1992 squads.

The Padres were without six starters, including injured Notre Dame-bound defensive end Matt Dickerson.

Serra (0-1), normally a run-oriented team, took to the air in the second half after being limited on the ground. The Padres took a 7-0 lead in the third quarter on Fa'aita's 1-yard QB sneak, a play that was set up by a long reception.

The Spartans answered on their next drive on Antoine Custer's 22-yard scoring run, but Serra took the lead again early in the fourth quarter. Fa'aita avoided being sacked, then connected with Austin Jackson, who bolted into the end zone for an 85-yard touchdown.

But after that, momentum began to shift the Spartans' way. After Serra missed a field goal, Williams hit Marquis Morris on a deep pass. The drive ended with Williams' 1-yard sneak for a touchdown that tied the score with 4:33 left.

The win was costly for the Spartans, who lost two-way starter Dasmond Tautalatasi and top receiver Adam Mayer to significant injuries in the first half. Tautalatasi suffered a dislocated elbow and Mayer left with a compound fracture in his right leg.