Saturday afternoon’s trip to Sacred Heart Prep will mark a return to familiar territory for Riordan head coach Adhir Ravipati.
Ravipati is no stranger to Atherton, having spent four years as Menlo-Atherton’s head coach and nine years in all on the Bears’ staff. During that time, his teams went up against SHP every season.
While the Gators underwent a head coaching change after the 2016 season, with former Arena Football League (AFL) star Mark Grieb replacing former Canadian Football Leaguer Pete Lavorato, SHP has essentially run the same system since Ravipati got to high school. When he played at Harker, his Eagles teams battled the Gators in the old Private School Athletic League (PSAL).
“I gave our defensive staff a historical evolution of their fly offense and how it’s changed from Coach Lav to Coach Grieb,” Ravipati said. “They know how to maximize the talents of their players.”
The Gators’ ability to control the clock and slowly chew up yardage makes for a stark contrast to the Crusaders’ explosive style that’s been on display across their first two games. Riordan (2-0) isn’t afraid to shoot for the moon with freshman quarterback Michael Mitchell Jr., basketball star King-Njhsanni Wilhite and a talented group of receivers led by Tyrone Jackson and Zion Wells.
Ripping off big plays, like Riordan did against Granada and Tamalpais, won’t be so easy at Sacred Heart Prep (2-1). The Gators have allowed just just 11 points per game across their first three contests this year, and one of the five touchdowns they’ve conceded came off a trick play, a Jerry Mixon Jr. touchdown pass in a one-point loss to Sacred Heart Cathedral.
SHP won the Central Coast Section (CCS) Division IV and California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division 5-A championships last season, and more than half of the defensive talent from that team returns to the 2022 roster.
The Gator defense is headlined by lockdown 6-foot-3 safety Carter Shaw, the son of Stanford head coach David Shaw, along with run-stopping middle linebacker Shay O’Kelly, junior linebacker Anthony Noto, 6-foot-6 defensive end Eliseo Buffington and defensive tackle RJ Stephens, the son of former professional wrestler Ezekiel Jackson.
“They’re much more multiple on defense than they used to be,” Ravipati said. “They do a very good job of minimizing their weaknesses. They have smart kids that they can teach complex schemes to and they disguise their players, so it’s hard to anticipate what they’ll throw at you.”
While the Crusaders have displayed the ability to convert big plays on long-yardage downs, it’ll undoubtedly be a tougher task to pull off against SHP. Cleaning up penalties after committing 26 across their first two games could help prevent those situations in the first place.
“With the personal fouls, we talk a lot in our Built For Life program about mindset and controlling your emotions,” Ravipati said. “As for block in the back penalties and stuff like that, we’ve done drills working on executing the right type of screen blocks. We’ve been looking at film from college and NFL games.”
Plenty of eyes will be on the Crusaders and Gators, who are set to kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday in Atherton at Gator Nation Field, which was known as Palatella Field until the namesake family was implicated in the 2019 college admissions scandal. Every other team in the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) is on a bye this week, so coaches will certainly be scouting Riordan as the Crusaders face their last and toughest challenge in non-league play.
Lincoln Mustangs (1-2) @ Windsor Jaguars (1-2), Fri. Sept. 16, 7 p.m.
Don’t be fooled by the Jaguars’ 1-2 record; Windsor poses the toughest test for the Mustangs in 2022. A perennial Sonoma County power, the Jaguars opened with a 41-6 thrashing of Tamalpais, and have since lost a shootout to Sac-Joaquin Section (SJS) small-school power Escalon and dropped a heartbreaker to Campolindo, allowing the game-winning touchdown as time expired.
First-year head coach DJ Sexton has a young team at his disposal, led by junior quarterback Judson Anderson, sophomore receiver Hayden Anderson and sophomore running back Wyatt Morris. Of the 43 players on Windsor’s roster, just 14 are seniors.
Deer Valley Wolverines (0-3) @ Balboa Buccaneers (0-2), Sat. Sept. 17, 2 p.m.
The Buccaneers have dropped their first two games for a third season in a row, a testament to the competition on their non-league schedule. On paper, the Wolverines are Balboa’s easiest non-league opponent, having won just three games since the start of the 2019 season, but they play in the loaded Bay Valley Athletic League (BVAL) with the likes of Pittsburg, Liberty and Antioch. Early season results are often skewed by the type of opponents teams schedule, but Deer Valley’s early results suggest a low-scoring game will be in order. The Wolverines have scored just 29 points across their first three games, which they lost to Northgate, St. Mary’s-Albany and Kennedy-Fremont. Balboa has lost Jerrold “Fat Fat” Anderson to season-ending knee surgery, but quarterback Edwin Maiava is probable to return from a shoulder injury suffered in a season-opening loss to Skyline.
Mission Bears (0-2) @ Castlemont Knights (1-2), Fri. Sept. 16, 7 p.m.
San Francisco teams have lost both games against Oakland teams so far this season, but another opportunity presents itself for Mission on Friday night. Castlemont lost close games to solid competition in each of the first two weeks, losing to Tennyson and St. Patrick-St. Vincent by a combined 17 points, before posting a convincing 32-0 win at Hercules last week. Friday will be the first home game of the season for the Knights, who finished third last season in the Oakland Athletic League (OAL). Castlemont’s offense runs through quarterback Daniel Parsons and running back Lonell Howard Jr., who has run for five touchdowns across the Knights’ first three games. Mission’s offense took significant strides forward in last week’s 32-14 loss to Novato, fueled by do-it-all junior Zaden Cato.
Burton Pumas @ Harker Eagles (1-1), Fri. Sept. 16, 7 p.m.
After canceling their first three non-league games due to low roster numbers and poor turnout at summer workouts, the Pumas will finally see their first action on Friday night in San Jose. Harker has been a semi-regular opponent for San Francisco public schools over recent years, most recently facing three Academic Athletic Association (AAA) teams in 2019. The Eagles, an independent team playing a freelance schedule, have a mix of 8-man and 11-man opponents. They’re 1-1 in 11-man games, beating San Jose 27-16 last week, and they also have an 8-man victory over Swett. Riordan head coach Adhir Ravipati graduated from the school in 2005.
Berkeley Yellowjackets (1-2) @ Galileo Lions (0-2), Sat. Sept. 17, 2 p.m.
The Yellowjackets, who have made just one playoff appearance since 2012, will make a rare Saturday appearance in San Francisco. Berkeley’s junior-heavy team tends to look to the air behind quarterback Drew Henderson, who’s already connected with Jackson Harris 17 times for 461 yards across three games. Stopping that tandem will be paramount for the Lions, who struggled to stop the big play in last week’s loss to Kennedy. Galileo has been shut out twice to start the season, but Saturday presents an opportunity against a Berkeley defense that’s allowing nearly 38 points per game so far this season.
Lowell Cardinals (0-2) @ Dougherty Valley Wildcats (3-0), Fri. Sept. 16, 7 p.m.
Coming out of a bye week, the Cardinals will have their hands full with a Dougherty Valley team that’s been on a steady rise over the last few years. The Wildcats are off to a 3-0 start, defeating Milpitas, Newark Memorial and Washington-Fremont. Lowell’s defense struggled in a 63-42 loss to Archie Williams on Sept. 2, and it won’t get much easier against a Dougherty Valley team that’s broken the 40-point mark in each of the past two weeks.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]