For two quarters, it looked like longtime rivals Serra and St. Francis were in for another tightly contested defensive battle.
Serra quarterback Maealiuaki Smith had something to say about that.
In the third quarter alone, the junior QB threw for 103 yards and two touchdowns as the visiting Padres rolled the Lancers 29-7, taking the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) opener and remaining undefeated in 2022.
“We just took what they gave us in the first half,” said Smith, who threw for 193 yards on the night. “They came out with some different things than we saw on film, and then we just made adjustments and it turned out to be a good gameplan for the second half.”
The Padres led 8-7 at halftime following a defensive stalemate in the first half, but opened the floodgates in the third quarter. On the first possession of the half, Smith connected on four of five passes, the last of which was a dime placed perfectly over wide receiver Jayden Weber’s shoulder for a 25-yard touchdown.
The stout Padre defense forced a three and out on the ensuing possession highlighted by a sack from junior defensive end Collin Tahitua. Of the four juniors that have started on Serra’s defense since they were freshmen, Tahitua’s name draws the least buzz, but the sack was a reminder of why he’s a key piece of such a highly-touted group.
Smith proceeded to lead Serra (4-0, 1-0 WCAL) down the field again after Tahitua’s sack. Rather than kick a 20-yard field goal to take a two-score lead, head coach Patrick Walsh chose to keep his offense on the field. Smith rewarded Walsh for his gamble, connecting with Joey Villaroman for a three-yard touchdown.
“I knew this was a big game for him,” Walsh said of Villaroman. “He said some words in chapel, and I could really tell this game meant the world to him.
Villaroman tore his ACL during the first game of the 2021 spring season, an injury that kept him out of all three meetings with the Lancers between the spring COVID season and the 2021 fall campaign.
“He's missed these games the past few years, and when I heard him speak in chapel, I knew he was gonna have a big night,” Walsh said. “He's a captain and he’s a guy we all follow.”
Malachi Gastrock’s 5-yard touchdown run with 10:43 remaining accounted for the final score.
Left guard Ryan Silver, a San Diego State commit who transferred from Sacred Heart Cathedral to Serra after his freshman year, suffered a left ankle injury late in the first quarter and didn’t return to the game. He was helped off the field, and was seen leaving the sidelines on a cart late in the second quarter. Walsh had no additional update on his status following the game.
“I can tell you he was in a lot of pain,” he remarked.
Serra Defense Shines Again
For the third time in the last four meetings with the Lancers, the Serra defense excelled.
St. Francis (1-3, 0-1) was held to just 96 yards and turned the ball over twice. The Padres sacked quarterback Matt Dougherty Jr. three times.
“We knew we had to come in and do our job, and we executed well,” said junior linebacker Danny Niu, who recorded a sack in the first quarter. “It just speaks to our coaches and my teammates’ abilities.”
The Lancers put up 44 on the Padres in the 2021 regular season finale. In the other three meetings, Serra has allowed a total of 26 points. Dougherty’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Riley Long with 1:01 left in the first half cut the lead to 8-7 and served as the lone St. Francis touchdown of the night.
“I thought the defense did a great job of being organized and ultimately showed a lot of toughness taking those fullbacks on,” Walsh added. “The linebackers were incredible tonight meeting them in the backfield. They run some iso and some power, and it has to be met with organization. When we can snuff out the run game like that, it makes them a little more one-dimensional.”
Jabari Mann’s 1-yard plunge with 10:35 left in the second quarter opened the scoring. Alexander Atkins, who serves as Serra’s backup quarterback and holder, ran in a two-point conversion on a swinging gate play.
In typical Walsh fashion, his postgame comments included no shortage of critiques of his own team.
“We had a couple issues with some sportsmanship stuff that led to a first down, and then it led to a touchdown,” he said. “I don’t like that. That's something we're gonna have to clean up, because when people think about Serra, I want them to think that we are top-notch, tough competitors that show sportsmanship all the time. That's something I’m holding myself accountable for.”
The Padres will host Mitty (4-0, 1-0) next Friday night at 7 p.m. in their lone home night game of the season. St. Francis will head to the Sunset District next Friday for a 7 p.m. meeting with St. Ignatius (1-3, 0-1).