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SF high school football week 8 preview: The battle of the birds

Washington quarterback James Mertz (7) fires a pass during the second quarter of the Eagles' 23-22 loss to Irvington in San Francisco on Sept. 3, 2022. | Chris Victorio for The Standard

The Washington Eagles and Lowell Cardinals may meet on Friday afternoon in the Battle of the Birds, but only one team will be traveling by air.

With quarterback James Mertz expected to return from a knee injury he suffered in a Sept. 23 win at Oakland, Washington (5-1, 2-0 Academic Athletic Association) likely won’t hesitate to throw throughout Friday afternoon’s game, which is slated for a 3 p.m. kickoff.

Don’t expect host Lowell (1-3, 1-0) to try to mimic the Eagles. With the graduation of Reese Miller, now on the roster at Division III Knox College, the Cardinals are back to their old-school double wing offense, though it does have a few new wrinkles in it.

Head coach Danny Chan, now in his 18th season, utilizes two different quarterbacks, relying on both sophomore Angelo Ornelas and junior Tomas La Sala. Ornelas is typically called on for passing downs, though he showcased his ability to run the rock two weeks ago as he raced for a pair of scores as the Cardinals downed Mission for their first win of 2022.

Tomas La Sala (11) tries to escape a Mission tackler during the first quarter of Lowell's 23-6 win over the Bears at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco on Sept. 30, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

While La Sala can call his own number in the run game, he’s hardly a one-man show. Gavin Barry-Smith gets halfback reps in a fullback’s body, seeking out contact and dragging tacklers with him rather than trying to avoid them. Brandon Yee also got in on the action against Mission, running for 64 yards on just five touches.

The Eagles’ primary method of moving the ball is through Mertz, who has well-established connections with receivers Felix Mamrikov and Ayan Razzak, but it would be shortsighted to call Washington one-dimensional. Running backs Dhiraj Gurung and Tommy Mayfield-Commer give Mike Ramos’ side a steady ground attack as well. It’s no coincidence that Washington’s lone loss came with Gurung and Mayfield-Commer both sidelined by injuries.

Lowell has won the last three meetings between the two sides, including shutouts in both 2018 and 2019. The 2018 victory was the lone win of the season for the Cardinals. Last year’s matchup was far closer, as Lowell escaped with a 21-20 road win.

Serra Padres (6-0, 3-0 West Catholic Athletic League) @ Riordan Crusaders (3-3, 1-2), Sat., Oct. 15, 2 p.m.

Serra linebacker Danny Niu (1) celebrates a sack during the first quarter of a 29-7 win over St. Francis in Mountain View on Sept. 23, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

It would be hard to label the Crusaders as anything other than extreme underdogs in this week’s matchup with Serra. Not only have the Padres won the Baxter Trophy six years running, they enter Saturday’s game as the top team in not only the WCAL and Central Coast Section (CCS), but arguably as the best side in all of Northern California by way of their wins over Folsom and De La Salle. In three WCAL games thus far, Serra’s made a habit out of pulling away from opponents in the third quarter and playing suffocating defense, led by junior linebackers Jabari Mann and Danny Niu.

Riordan may have running back and cornerback King-Njhsanni Wilhite back from a collarbone injury, but will likely be without Zion Wells once again. Defensive end Isiah Chala, who received an offer from Oregon State this week, was banged up late in last week’s loss to Mitty, and is a game-time decision.

If Serra’s defense rules the day, as has been a common theme this season, it’ll be a familiar story for the Crusaders. Since Riordan last beat Serra in a 66-45 shootout in 2015, the Padre defense has held the Crusaders to 29 total points in six games.

Lincoln Mustangs (3-3, 2-0 AAA) @ Galileo Lions (0-6, 0-2), Sat., Oct. 15, 2 p.m.

The San Francisco football landscape has shifted radically in the last five years. Since Galileo posted two wins over Lincoln in 2017, including an AAA semifinal win on the road to a 6-A state title, the Mustangs have run roughshod over the Lions, outscoring them 152-18 in three meetings. Lincoln has lost just one game to a city opponent since that Nov. 24, 2017 semifinal defeat.

Burton Pumas (0-2, 0-1 AAA) @ Balboa Buccaneers (2-4, 1-1), Sat., Oct. 15, 2 p.m.

Facing the Pumas might be the perfect remedy for a Balboa offense that’s sputtered out of the gates in 2022. Even with last week’s 35-point showing against Galileo, the Buccaneers are averaging just 12.3 points per game so far this season. Burton’s two losses have been by a combined 122-0, so unless the Pumas show tremendous improvement within a week, there will be plenty of opportunities for the Bucs to score.

Mitty Monarchs (5-1, 2-1 WCAL) @ Bellarmine Bells (3-3, 2-1), Fri. , Oct. 14, 7 p.m. at San Jose City College

After a four-year span in which at least one of the two teams, if not both, was dormant, the Mitty-Bellarmine game will regain its status as the biggest game in San Jose on Friday night. Both teams have just one league loss thus far, each coming against Serra. While each team has a win over Riordan, the victories came in wildly different fashions: The Monarchs scored three touchdowns in the first five minutes to punish the Crusaders, while Bellarmine won a 3-0 rock fight. The status of running back Ben Pfaff, who injured his ankle on his first carry in that win over Riordan, will have significant bearing on Bellarmine’s offensive game plan.

St. Francis Lancers (3-3, 2-1 WCAL) @ Valley Christian Warriors (1-5, 0-3), Fri., Oct. 14, 7 p.m.

A game that typically plays a significant role in the WCAL title race will have far less hubbub than usual this year as Valley Christian rebuilds. Still, this matchup has a habit of staying close, regardless of the talent level on either side. Both teams love to control the clock and run the ball, which lends itself to a game of long drives and few changes of possession. However, this year’s St. Francis team has shown the ability to take to the air behind quarterback Matt Dougherty Jr., who threw for three touchdowns in a win at St. Ignatius.

Other Noteworthy Bay Area Games

Sacred Heart Prep (5-1, 1-0 Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division) will be favored for Friday’s trip to Burlingame (3-3, 1-1), but the Panthers always seem to have a way of keeping the Gators close. Both teams run the ball and like to control the clock, with the Panthers in the wing-T and SHP running a fly offense.

The most anticipated game in the East Bay this week is in the Diablo Athletic League’s Foothill Division, where Campolindo (6-0, 1-0) will host Acalanes (6-0, 1-0). Both teams have stars at wide receiver; Robbie Mascheroni has caught nine Dashiell Weaver passes for touchdowns for the Cougars, while junior Trevor Rogers has hauled in 10 TDs for the Dons.

De La Salle (3-3) will look to bounce back from last week’s loss to St. Mary’s-Stockton with a visit to California-San Ramon (5-1, 1-0 East Bay Athletic League Mountain Division). While many of the Spartans’ streaks have come to an end in recent years, they still haven’t lost to a North Coast Section (NCS) foe since 1991.

Clayton Valley (3-3, 1-0 EBAL Mountain) visits San Ramon Valley (5-1), who fell from the ranks of the unbeaten last week in a 45-42 loss to McClymonds. Luke Baker threw for 513 yards for the Wolves in that defeat.

Salinas (6-0, 2-0 Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division) is expected to challenge the WCAL powers in the CCS Division I playoffs, but the Cowboys will need to survive Friday’s trip to Aptos (5-1, 2-0) in order to remain perfect on the season. Salinas is a pass-heavy team, led by quarterback Adam Shaffer Jr. and Cal commit wide receiver Nyziah Hunter, while the Mariners run an up-tempo version of the wing-T.

Click here for The Standard’s preview of the 2022 Bruce-Mahoney Game between St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral.