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Serra stifles St. Ignatius, maintains perfect record

Serra running back Danny Niu (1) carries the ball during the Padres' 21-7 win over St. Ignatius in San Francisco on Oct. 28, 2022. | Courtesy Paul Ghiglieri/St. Ignatius Athletics

The Serra Padres continued their quest for their first 10-0 regular season in program history, holding St. Ignatius scoreless until the final four minutes in a 21-7 victory over the Wildcats at SI’s J.B. Murphy Field.

Serra (9-0, 6-0 West Catholic Athletic League) was inches away from that elusive 10-0 mark in 2019, when the current seniors were freshmen, but the Padres were stuffed by St. Ignatius on a potential game-winning two-point conversion. The 2020-21 team went undefeated, but in an abbreviated five-game season. Last year’s team won its first eight games before falling to St. Francis on the final day of the regular season.

“Our defense played absolutely fantastic," said Padres head coach Patrick Walsh, "and we needed that tonight because our offense wasn’t operating on all cylinders. And a lot of that has to do with the game plan of Coach [John] Regalia and SI. They always do well against us. They have a strong culture and a lot of pride.”

St. Ignatius running back Cameron Jones (37) tries to avoid Serra linebacker Jabari Mann (5) during the Wildcats' 21-7 loss to the Padres in San Francisco on Oct. 28, 2022. | Courtesy Paul Ghiglieri/St. Ignatius Athletics

Serra limited the St. Ignatius (3-6, 2-4 WCAL) running back tandem of Jarious Hogan and Cameron Jones to 24 yards and forced four turnovers, including three by a team captain.

The arrival of star quarterback Maealiuaki Smith, a 3-star national recruit, meant Alexander Atkins never got to star on offense for Serra like his brother, Andre, did as a receiver. Instead, Alexander has slotted into Serra’s secondary and served as an occasional backup quarterback on option plays and two-point conversions.

He finally stepped into the spotlight on Friday night with three interceptions, the last of which went for a 44-yard pick-six with 2:52 left in the third quarter, extending the Padre lead to 21-0 and shutting the door on any potential SI comeback.

Serra cornerback Alexander Atkins (16) guards St. Ignatius wide receiver Mac McAndrews (12) before a snap during the Padres' 21-7 win over the Wildcats in San Francisco on Oct. 28, 2022. | Courtesy Paul Ghiglieri/St. Ignatius Athletics

“He’s a great kid, he’s one of our captains, he’s a lifelong Padre,” said Walsh of Atkins. “He’s worked really hard on his discipline, and his eye discipline has been something that’s cost him in the past. But tonight, his eyes were locked in […] definitely the star of the game."

Serra entered the halftime break with a 14-0 advantage, thanks to a pair of touchdown passes from Maealiuaki Smith, who finished 18-for-26 with 215 yards and no picks. 

Jayden Weber (5 receptions-50 yards) got the visitors on the board with 36 seconds left in the first quarter when he took Smith's screen pass and scooted down the right sideline for a 32-yard score.

The clubs had traded turnovers on consecutive plays moments earlier, as Atkins picked off sophomore quarterback Soren Hummel right after the Wildcats recovered a Jaden Green fumble in the red zone. Green finished the night as Serra's leading rusher with 46 yards on 10 carries.

Jabari Mann's pick deep in his own territory led to the second Padres score of the half with 3:16 remaining, a 39-yard toss by Smith to Seamus Gilmartin, who beat his man down the seam to cap an eight-play, 72-yard drive. Gilmartin, a 3-star tight end with Ivy League interest and an offer from Fresno State, caught four passes for 81 yards.

Serra defensive end Sam Goligoski (6) and safety Johnny Latu (40) rush St. Ignatius quarterback Soren Hummel (18) during the Padres' 21-7 win over the Wildcats in San Francisco on Oct. 28, 2022. | Courtesy Paul Ghiglieri/St. Ignatius Athletics

Sacks and tackles for loss by both defenses permeated the game. Serra got two sacks apiece from Sam Goligoski, playing in his first game since suffering a hamstring injury on Sept. 2, and Timo Poloka, while SI defenders Sui Gallegos-Hunkin and Patrick Bruso each registered big takedowns of quarterback Smith.

SI's lone score came at the 3:57 mark of the fourth, after Serra failed on a fake punt attempt and gave SI possession at its own 40. The Wildcats needed only two plays to reach the end zone: a 43-yard hookup from Hummel to Hogan, and a 17-yard reception by JJ Casey, who cagily used his blockers on the way to pay dirt. Hummel finished 15 of 30 for 155 yards.

Serra hosts Sacred Heart Cathedral (5-3, 3-2) at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday with a chance to finish WCAL play at 7-0 for just the second time in program history. The Padres went 6-0 in league play in 1968 and 5-0 in 1969, Lynn Swann’s senior year. The 2017 team is the only one to sweep its way through WCAL play; that team went on to win a state championship, but lost two early non-league games.

"Everyone says they'd like to be 10-0, but only 9-0 teams can actually live it. I'm hopeful that we learn from what happened in 2019 here at SI," Walsh said. "I’d like our team to not focus on the external pressures and the external concepts, and focus more on just diving into ourselves, and diving into the love and humility that we’ve been working on all year."

The Padres also clinched no worse than a share of the WCAL title with the win, and they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over second place St. Francis (6-3, 5-1). Only a Lancer win over Mitty and a Serra loss to SHC would deprive the Padres of an outright crown.

St. Ignatius hosts Riordan (3-5, 1-4) at 7 p.m. next Friday for Senior Night and the annual battle for the Gil Haskell Trophy. It’ll be just the second time the schools have played under the lights at SI; the Wildcats won 42-7 under temporary lights in 2011. Friday will likely double as a play-in game for the WCAL’s sixth and final playoff spot.