Friday will mark the fourth time in the last five seasons the St. Ignatius football team has opened against the Palo Alto Vikings. While it’s been a fixture that’s provided two strong programs with a quality first game, this year’s meeting will be about what’s surrounding the field, rather than the action unfolding on it.
For the first time in SI’s 167-year history, permanent lights will bring students and fans to J.B. Murphy Field on the night, setting the stage for a game that will serve as a celebration after years of negotiations and headaches.
“It’s been about an 18-year dream and a seven-and-a-half-year process,” athletic director John Mulkerrins said. “The lights allow us far more practice time, but having night games is more important than just that because it’s about bringing our community together. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, you can come here on a Friday night to support your school.”
Preparations for the players are similar to normal. The Wildcats are used to playing Friday nights on the road, so adjusting practice schedules to accommodate for Friday games instead of Saturday afternoons was an easy switch.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet on my end,” head coach John Regalia said. “There are so many other things we’ve got to be ready for, and first and foremost is Palo Alto, because they’re pretty good.”
It’ll be especially important for the Wildcats to get off to a strong start, considering they’ll be facing Jesuit-Carmichael (Sacramento County) and St. Mary’s-Stockton over the following two weeks. Should SI finish outside of the top four in the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL), a good performance in these three nonleague games will be necessary to qualify for the Central Coast Section (CCS) playoffs.
Recent results do favor the Wildcats against the Vikings; they won 23-7 to open their memorable 2019 campaign and posted a 28-7 victory on the road to begin the 2021 season.
New faces will populate both sides; quarterback Mac McAndrews will make his first regular-season start for SI, while Palo Alto welcomes a new head coach in Dave DeGeronimo. DeGeronimo served as an assistant for the Vikings in multiple stints before taking the head job at Los Altos, where he spent the prior three seasons. He now replaces Nelson Gifford, who left Palo Alto to take the athletic director job at Santa Clara High.
Palo Alto enters Friday night with an inexperienced backfield, but the Vikings have no shortage of tough runners with juniors Jeremiah Madrigal and Jack Newman. Blocking for the pair will be two-way lineman Vainga Mahe and 300-pound sophomore JJ Stallworth, but Iki Tupou, a 6-foot-6 junior, is questionable to play after suffering a quadriceps injury.
Soft-tissue injuries have taken their toll on the Vikings, especially at the wide receiver corps. Aside from Jason Auzenne, who impressed in last week’s scrimmage with Mitty, most of Palo Alto’s starting wideouts are questionable or doubtful.
If Sacred Heart Cathedral wants to spend the 2022 season avenging past losses, there’s no better place to start than against Sacred Heart Prep. SHC dropped the season opener to the Gators last year in Atherton, falling 28-21 after conceding the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute. The teams also squared off in the 2018 CCS Division III Semifinals, a game SHP won 19-7.
Suffocating SHP defense has been a common theme in prior meetings between the two schools, which are nearly identical in name but are separated by 32 miles.
The Gators, who play as an associate member of the Peninsula Athletic League (PAL) with San Mateo County public schools, typically control the clock with a fly offense and seldom budge on the defensive side of the ball. That defense was on display during a state championship run that nearly mirrored that of the Irish; SHP shut out University Prep-Redding in a Norcal Championship game and blanked Righetti-Santa Maria in the 5-A state title game.
Most of the leaders from that defensive unit return; linebacker Shay O’Kelly averaged 12.7 tackles per game, Eliseo Buffington is a monster defensive end and John Chung combined with Carter Shaw, the son of Stanford head coach David Shaw, to lead a lockdown secondary.
As sturdy as the Gators may be on defense, SHC certainly has the weapons to open things up. Jerry Mixon Jr. may be heading to Oregon to play linebacker, but he doubles as a bruising running back. RL Miller, committed to Arizona State to play linebacker, is also a skilled wide receiver and experienced a growth spurt over the summer that should make for a tremendously entertaining 1-on-1 battle with Shaw. Kendric Sanders and Isaiah Keishk also offer blazing speed; Sanders ran back a kickoff for a game-tying 95-yard touchdown in last year’s meeting before SHP embarked on the game-winning drive.
The Riordan Crusaders and Granada Matadors are set to open the season with a cross-sectional meeting for the second year in a row, and both teams will enter Saturday’s matinee under new head coaches.
Adhir Ravipati makes his debut at Riordan, while Granada has promoted Marc Moses from the junior varsity role after 11 years, including an undefeated 2021 campaign in which they recorded five shutouts. While that JV unit never tasted defeat, the varsity squad lost a close one to Riordan last year, falling 35-21 in a game moved from a Friday night to a Monday evening in response to poor air quality in the Tri-Valley.
Quinn Boyd quarterbacked that JV team and is now elevated to the starting role on the varsity squad. He’s got a pair of seniors to throw to in wide receiver Kekoa Barcinas and Thomas Schnapp, a 6-foot-6 tight end who also plays defensive end. Fans will be in for a treat if Schnapp lines up against Riordan’s Isiah Chala, who can stack up to him in size and ability. Lightning-quick Zachary Jones makes for a logical matchup for Barcinas.
It’s unclear who will quarterback the Crusaders in their season opener. Freshman Michael Mitchell Jr. impressed throughout August practices, but St. Ignatius transfer Tobey Weydemuller was granted a waiver to forgo a four-game sit-out period, opening up competition between the two sooner than expected.
For the second year in a row, the Jefferson Grizzlies and Lincoln Mustangs will serve as season-opening dance partners. Jefferson won last year’s meeting 16-3, Lincoln’s first competitive game since the 2019 state championship. The Grizzlies graduated 16 of 32 players from last year’s roster, but they do return ultra-speedy quarterback Tyler Taylor. Taylor leads a ground-heavy attack filled with multi-sport athletes, including Hector Alipio, Daemian Killian, Nathan Sanz and Raymond Tsang.
Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno hasn’t said who will step in at quarterback for his squad, but whoever does end up filling the position will mainly be handing off to Ricky Underwood, who ran 32 times in a win over Lowell last October. With both teams’ penchant for running the ball, Friday afternoon’s contest should be a quick game that allows football-starved fans to not only start their season with a compelling battle, but have plenty of time to head to a night game as well, perhaps with room to spare to make a stop for dinner in between.
The Lowell Cardinals will make the trip down to Cupertino for a second year in a row to square off with the Matadors, who represent a school renowned for excellent academics and a student body packed with Apple employee’s children. The Matadors won just two games in 2021, but only graduated 14 players out of the 40 that populated last year’s varsity roster. Among the returners is dual-threat quarterback Greyson Mobley.
With optimism abound at Washington, the Eagles have a terrific chance to open 2022 on a high note as they host an Ygnacio Valley team that hasn’t won a game since making a North Coast Section (NCS) playoff appearance in 2019. The Wolves, who reside across the street from De La Salle and changed their nickname from the Warriors after the 2021 season, were outscored by an average of 25.6 points per game last year. They scrimmaged Galileo, so Washington head coach Mike Ramos has a common opponent from which he can base his gameplan and prep for YV’s spread offense.
Serra heads up to Sacramento County to square off with Folsom (1-0) in a battle of defending NorCal champions. The Bulldogs opened with a 47-18 win over Monterey Trail-Elk Grove (the Sac-Joaquin Section’s season began a week earlier than the Bay Area’s), but lost Stanford-bound tight end Walker Lyons to a broken leg in the first quarter. Los Gatos welcomes SoCal power Corona del Mar-Newport Beach to town, Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park visits Las Lomas-Walnut Creek in a high-profile North Coast Section (NCS) matchup and De La Salle with a visit to Monterey Trail. Menlo-Atherton hosts Bellarmine on Saturday afternoon, the seventh meeting between the two since the beginning of the 2016 season, but the Bears will be without Valley Christian transfer Jurrion Dickey while he completes his transfer sit-out period.
Note: The game between Mission and Oakland Tech, originally scheduled for Friday Aug. 26, has been rescheduled for Saturday Sept. 3.
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