Over the past decade and change, the West Catholic Athletic League’s Santa Clara County football teams have generally held superiority over the league’s three San Francisco schools. Since the start of the 2009 season, St. Francis has lost just two games to city opponents, falling to St. Ignatius in both 2012 and 2019.
Sacred Heart Cathedral, who last beat the Lancers in 2008, is looking to change that trend come Friday night. The Fightin’ Irish will take on St. Francis (2-3, 1-1 WCAL) at Ron Calcagno Stadium in Mountain View, with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Despite the Lancers’ 12-game head-to-head winning streak, the last three meetings have been close. SHC lost just 14-0 at Kezar Stadium in 2018 to a Lancer team quarterbacked by Ryan Daly, who transferred from Ellis Street down to Mountain View and was making his first career start in place of the injured Jack Perry. Even a 2019 Irish team that went 0-10 was tied with the Lancers at halftime before falling 42-14, unable to counter the rushing exploits of then-sophomores Camilo Arquette and Viliami Teu. Last year, even with QB Ray-John Spears sidelined by injury, the Irish trailed just 16-13 after three quarters before Arquette dominated the final period.
“We’ve been playing really well against them,” head coach Antoine Evans said. “We’ve just been coming up short.”
As usual, Sacred Heart Cathedral (3-2, 1-1) will have the best individual player on the field in Jerry Mixon Jr., who racked up 110 total yards, two touchdowns and nine tackles in last week’s 36-20 win at Valley Christian. Linebacker RL Miller isn’t far off, both in pass coverage and when he lines up at wide receiver on offense. Miller, an Arizona State commit, had eight catches for 156 yards and an interception on Saturday.
While Mixon and Miller are exceptionally talented, having great individual players is nothing new for SHC. The problem has been building the depth needed to take down an ultra-physical team like St. Francis that loves to wear teams down on the ground.
If there’s any Fightin’ Irish team that has the requisite depth needed to topple the Lancers, though, it’s this one. Teams preoccupied with avoiding Mixon and Miller on defense will still have to deal with the likes of Jay Murphy, Jabari Ryan and Zaheer Young, and even if an opposing secondary can somehow keep the ball away from the tandem, they’ll still have to answer for Mikey Calonico, Eoghan Daly, Jackson Irons and running back Kendric Sanders. All of those pieces have time to make plays thanks to one of the stronger lines SHC has seen in decades, led by Jordan Solofa-Fatu and Benny Hatch. Hatch, a junior, now lines up alongside his freshman brother, Brody.
“You can’t just focus on one guy with us this year,” Evans said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons.”
The Lancers graduated Arquette, Teu and almost the entire rest of their starting lineup from 2021, including offensive linemen Uluakinofo Taliauli and Denaris DeRosa, both of whom are now on scholarship at San Jose State. A three-game losing streak would have suggested that this was a rebuilding year in Mountain View, but after a 42-20 triumph last week at St. Ignatius, it looks more like St. Francis’ early struggles were a product of facing a loaded early schedule. A young Lancer defense is allowing 28 points per game halfway through the regular season, but the offense found itself last Friday in the Sunset District. Keala Keanaaina put on a Teu-like performance with 231 yards on 29 carries, while quarterback Matt Dougherty Jr. threw for 231 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Dougherty’s return has been the biggest boost for St. Francis; he was injured while leading his team to a historic win over De La Salle last year and missed his team’s final 10 games of the 2021 season.
The Irish last upended St. Francis in 2008 with a 24-3 win at Kezar Stadium in the first year of their return to WCAL football. Until Saturday, 2008 had also marked their most recent win over Valley Christian, and the last time SHC won two of three games to open WCAL play.
“The kids can’t wait to play in front of the Rage Cage (St. Francis student section) and that crowd,” Evans said.
Last year, one of Riordan's two WCAL wins came against a Mitty side that finished the year at an abysmal 1-9, capping off a painful stretch of 15 losses in 16 games.
Things have changed rather quickly for the Monarchs, who won their first four games in 2022 before last week’s 35-7 setback at Serra. Mitty’s newfound success has come without any sort of coaching change or a shot in the arm from a major transfer. It’s largely the same core as last season, but a year older and playing with the “Gritty Mitty” moniker. Sacramento State commit Danny Scudero and Ben Kim, who mainly played hockey until high school, serve as explosive big play threats for quarterback Wills Towers, now in his third season as the Monarchs’ starter.
That home run ability has fueled the Monarchs so far in 2022, including in a win over Sacred Heart Cathedral to open WCAL play, but finding such success won’t be easy against Riordan. In two WCAL games, the Crusaders have allowed just two plays of longer than 25 yards, a 53-yard screen pass to Valley Christian’s Uchenna Eke and a 36-yard scramble to Bellarmine quarterback Parker Threatt in the opening minutes of last Saturday’s 3-0 loss. The same Bells who threw for 219 yards against St. Ignatius just eight days earlier mustered just 27 passing yards against Riordan and hardly looked to throw deep, not wanting to test Zion Wells, Tyrone Jackson and Javius Redding.
As good as Riordan’s defense has been, the offense has struggled for three consecutive weeks. The same team that erupted for 79 points against Granada and Tamalpais has had minimal success against better competition, with just 23 points in the last three weeks, seven of which came against Sacred Heart Prep’s second-stringers at the end of a lopsided defeat.
“We just need to get into a better rhythm and execute more consistently,” head coach Adhir Ravipati said. “We get into these long down and distances because we have a stupid penalty or a bad snap. I think we’ve actually gotten better overall as the season’s gone on, we just haven’t been stringing it together.”
Last week, Riordan managed just 2.4 yards per carry without King-Njhsanni Wilhite, who will be a game-time decision on Friday as he aims to return from a collarbone injury. Lightning-quick receiver Zachary Jones, who also lines up at cornerback, will also be a game-time decision. He sprained his ankle against SHP on Sept. 17.
Friday’s game in the Sunset is all but a must-win for both the Wildcats and Warriors. With only the top six teams in the WCAL eligible for postseason play, an 0-3 start to league play would leave both outfits in serious danger of missing the playoffs. SI last missed the playoffs in 2017, while Valley Christian hasn’t done so since 2006.
The St. Ignatius pass defense has struggled mightily in three straight games, allowing an average of 211 passing yards per game to St. Mary’s-Stockton, Bellarmine and St. Francis. Such obstacles shouldn’t repeat against a Valley Christian team that loves to run the ball and has no choice but to run with sophomore quarterback Jonathan Craft shelved by a broken ankle, but stopping the Warriors on the ground won’t be easy. After allowing 6.4 yards per carry in last week’s defeat to St. Francis, the SI defense has to regroup to face Uchenna Eke, who ran 20 times for 206 yards and three touchdowns last week as Valley Christian lost to Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Offensively, SI should be in good hands, regardless of who starts at quarterback. Sophomore Soren Hummel took over last week with Mac McAndrews battling a shoulder injury and threw for 330 yards and three third-quarter touchdowns. Valley Christian’s defense will cause problems with Champ Taulealea and Rayne Mayo Jr. up front, while the secondary is headlined by sophomore Marcel Leggett Jr. and juniors Kai Hamilton and Brandon Henderson. The Wildcats last beat the Warriors in 2012, and they have never beaten Valley Christian at home.
It would be hard to find two more different approaches to football than those at Mission and Lincoln. The Bears are full of athletes that can wreak havoc in the open field like Zaden Cato and Taevon Mitchell, while the Mustangs run the ball up the middle as much as possible and wear opponents down throughout games. Even though Mission has scored just 20 points this season and has been shut out twice, the explosiveness is there for the Bears; it’s just a matter of avoiding penalties. In last week’s 23-6 loss to Lowell, Mission reached the end zone four times, but penalties wiped out three would-be scores.
It’s been tough sledding for the Balboa offense so far this season. The Buccaneers have scored just 39 points in 2022 and were limited to just 56 yards in last week’s loss at Lincoln, but playing Galileo may offer a chance for the Bucs to finally get on track. The Lions have allowed 43.5 points per game in the four times they’ve taken the field this year. Last week, Washington gashed Galileo for 498 rushing yards.
Quarterback James Mertz missed last week’s win over Galileo with a knee injury, but Washington still racked up 519 yards of total offense in a lopsided 44-8 victory. Unless Burton has undergone a radical transformation from a 58-0 Sept. 16 loss to Harker, all signs point to the Eagles grabbing their fifth win, whether or not Mertz plays. After winning five games in 2017, Washington racked up just three total wins from 2018 to 2021.
With St. Francis and Mitty out of the way, Serra is a heavy favorite to run the table in the WCAL. The Bells last beat the Padres in 2015, but San Jose City College, Bellarmine’s home field, was a house of horrors for Serra for decades. If running back Ben Pfaff, who injured his ankle on the first snap of Saturday’s win over Riordan, is healthy, don’t count Bellarmine out.
If Serra goes unbeaten through the regular season and section playoffs, the only team that could possibly be awarded the Northern California Open Division bid over the Padres would be St. Mary’s-Stockton. The Rams, who blasted St. Ignatius 49-20 last month, are 6-0 and host De La Salle (3-2) on Friday night in a game that has major Northern California seeding implications.
Referee shortages have forced teams to play Thursday night games, especially in the San Jose area. That situation presents itself once again this week in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mount Hamilton Division, where Lincoln-San Jose (5-0) will visit Christopher (5-0) in a battle of unbeatens.
Fresh off a stunning win over Menlo-Atherton, Half Moon Bay (5-0, 1-0 Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division) will try to stay perfect on the road against Sacred Heart Prep (4-1) on Saturday afternoon.
The biggest game in the southern half of the Central Coast Section this week is unquestionably at Rabobank Stadium, where Palma (5-1, 2-0 Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division) hosts Hollister (3-3, 1-1).
Pittsburg (4-1), led by Washington-bound wide receiver Rashid Williams, opens Bay Valley Athletic League play at home against Liberty (3-2). Amador Valley (4-1) hosts Clayton Valley (2-3) to kick off East Bay Athletic League play in the Mountain Division, the EBAL’s upper echelon. San Ramon Valley (5-0) is an EBAL member but won’t be playing a league game until next week; the Wolves head to Oakland to take on McClymonds (3-1).
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Riordan won two WCAL games in 2021.
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