As memorable as the 2021 West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) football season was, one thing was absent: parity. Serra and St. Francis ran the table all year long, and the two powerhouses were challenged just twice in six games before a much-anticipated head-to-head meeting. St. Francis won that game 44-21 behind Viliami Teu’s legendary rushing performance, only for Serra to end the Lancers’ season three weeks later with a stifling defensive performance in the Central Coast Section (CCS) Championship Game.
With wins over Folsom and De La Salle to open the 2022 season, Serra (3-0) enters as the presumptive favorite, but the gap between the Padres and the rest of the league is nowhere near as gargantuan as it was in 2021. Serra does have a terrific junior class, headlined by quarterback Maealiuaki Smith and linebackers Joseph Bey, Jabari Mann and Danny Niu, but the graduation of Hassan “The Missile” Mahasin, now at San Diego State, leaves the Padres without much explosive big play ability from the skill positions. Serra’s offensive line is also quite inexperienced, save for San Diego State-bound left guard Ryan Silver. The Padres will be tested immediately against a Lancers team that graduated almost its entire starting lineup from 2021, though St. Francis does have 3-star safety Keala Keanaaina and quarterback Matt Dougherty.
Ask 100 different people to predict the standings past Serra, and you’ll likely get 100 different answers. St. Francis (1-2) is as physical as ever but may struggle with inexperience, Bellarmine (1-2) has been inconsistent through non-league play and Valley Christian (1-2) has a tiny senior class, one that lacked in depth even before Oregon-bound wide receiver Jurrion Dickey transferred to Menlo-Atherton. Even with those shortcomings, the Bells and Warriors will be difficult to beat. Bellarmine has a top running back in Ben Pfaff, tons of speed at wide receiver and a young head coach in Jalal Beauchman who’s drawn rave reviews across his first two seasons. Valley Christian’s defensive line is still rock solid, and cornerbacks Kai Hamilton and Brandon Henderson will be difficult to throw on.
The three San Francisco teams have already proven their worth throughout non-league play. St. Ignatius (1-2) flattened Palo Alto and kept Jesuit close, Sacred Heart Cathedral (2-1) beat Sacred Heart Prep to open the season and Riordan (2-1) has no shortage of playmakers. Even with Zachary Jones sidelined by a high ankle sprain, the Crusaders can still turn to Tyrone Jackson and Zion Wells to make big plays along the sidelines.
Even Mitty, last year’s doormat, is off to a 3-0 start. Sure, the Monarchs have played arguably the weakest non-league schedule of any WCAL team, but they posted a convincing win over a Palma team that beat SHC the following week and crushed a Mountain View team that they beat by just a single point in 2021.
“They’re more explosive on offense and more aggressive on defense,” Sacred Heart Cathedral head coach Antoine Evans said of the Monarchs.
With eight competitive outfits, the WCAL won’t just offer some of the Bay Area’s top teams this year; it should also offer great games every week. The first week of games looks like the best of all, as all four games offer the potential to go down to the final play. Serra head coach Patrick Walsh often refers to his team’s schedule as “the grinder’s jubilee,” and there may be no better representation than the 2022 WCAL.
“We all understand the honor and responsibility of being a part of the league,” St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia said. “We’ve seen our league’s teams play great non-league teams and represent themselves well.”
Serra Padres (3-0) @ St. Francis Lancers (1-2), Fri. Sept. 23, 7 p.m.
With how closely contested the Serra-St. Francis rivalry has been in recent years, it’s easy to forget that this was an incredibly lopsided matchup for decades. The Lancers won 34 consecutive meetings with the Padres from 1973 through 2005, and Serra’s 2011 victory at St. Francis was the Padres’ first win in Mountain View since 1969. Even Tom Brady’s Serra teams were no match for the Lancers. In 1993, St. Francis beat Brady’s Padres 63-6 as Eric Byrnes, who spent 11 years as a Major League outfielder, sacked Brady three times.
That 2011 victory signified a shift in the tides and started a run in which the Padres have left Ron Calcagno Stadium with a win in four of their last seven visits, including a playoff victory in 2016. Overall, Serra has won eight of the last 14 meetings, including three of the last four postseason clashes. One of Serra or St. Francis has claimed at least a share of the WCAL championship for nine consecutive seasons.
Mitty Monarchs (3-0) @ Sacred Heart Cathedral Fightin’ Irish (2-1), Fri. Sept. 23, 7 p.m. at Kezar Stadium
With a maximum of six playoff spots for WCAL teams, every game counts. That was the case when the Fightin’ Irish visited the Monarchs last year, a game SHC won 27-16 to secure a playoff berth, the beginning of a run to section and state crowns. That game also marked the end of a forgettable one-win season for Mitty. The 2022 Monarchs have done everything in their power to make that season a distant memory, winning all three of their non-league contests. Junior quarterback Wills Towers has thrown for eight touchdowns against just one interception, with help from a much improved offensive line anchored by Michael Forney. Sacramento State commit Danny Scudero is averaging 85.3 receiving yards per game on the young season, while Benjamin Kim has caught five of Towers’ eight touchdown passes. Mitty’s defense, which has allowed just 14 points across three games, is led by Austin Barbeau, Makoa Sniffen and Quincy Springs.
Riordan Crusaders (2-1) @ Valley Christian Warriors (1-2), Fri. Sept. 23, 7 p.m.
Riordan has beaten Valley Christian just once in 19 previous meetings, but teams are lining up to take their shots at the Warriors this season. Mike Machado’s team has just seven rostered seniors, though one of those seven is 6-foot-5 tight end Tyler Bourland, whose heroic 60-yard catch with 25 seconds left gave the Warriors their first win of the season at Hollister. That 12-6 win was a stark contrast from Valley Christian’s first two games, in which Wilcox and Salinas combined to torch the Warrior defense for 90 points.
Even in what’s considered a down year for the Warriors, it’ll still be difficult for opponents to beat Valley Christian by running up the middle. 3-star junior Rayne Mayo Jr. and 4-star sophomore Champ Taulealea, who tips the scales at 330 pounds, anchor a stout line. Uchenna Eke gets the bulk of the carries for a run-heavy offense, and the Warriors may stay on the ground even more than usual after sophomore quarterback Jonathan Craft broke his ankle during that win at Hollister. Mathew Botelho replaced him at QB, and while he completed just two passes, both were to Bourland to fuel the game-winning drive.
With Valley’s JV and freshman teams excelling, this may be a rare chance for the rest of the WCAL to knock the Warriors down a peg. Friday night is an opportunity for the Crusaders to beat the Warriors on the road for the first time in program history. Valley Christian’s two home losses so far this season have already matched last season’s total.
St. Ignatius Wildcats (1-2) @ Bellarmine Bells (1-2), Fri. Sept. 23, 7 p.m. at San Jose City College
The Bells may have a losing record so far, but they could easily be 3-0 after two tough losses to excellent opponents. Former Valley Christian star Jurrion Dickey led Menlo-Atherton to a 20-point comeback to open the season after Bellarmine came flying out of the gate, and McClymonds upended the Bells in overtime on a fumble after Bellarmine held the Warriors to a field goal. A 25-6 win at San Leandro to end non-league play signaled a step forward for the Bells, but they’re still looking for consistency, especially on defense.
During that win over San Leandro, Ben Pfaff put up a monster performance, running for 305 yards and three touchdowns. The Bells graduated most of their receiving core from 2021, but junior Colin Lakkaraju has stepped up to lead a young group. While the Bells did allow 72 points over their first two games, they do have a strong linebacker group at their disposal, led by Brandon Broch and Jake Hanson. Defensive end Jae’von Reels has been limited to 14 tackles across his first three games, but eight of those have gone for a loss. His matchup with St. Ignatius lineman Santino Franco could be the deciding factor on Friday night.
Balboa Buccaneers (1-2) @ Livermore Cowboys (4-0), Fri. Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m.
The Buccaneers finish their gauntlet of a non-league schedule on Friday night with a visit to take on the unbeaten Cowboys. Livermore (4-0) has put up 151 points across four games, including 51 in a Week 2 thrashing of Alhambra, and won a 38-35 thriller last week over American Canyon on Tyler Trudeau’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Dominic Johnson. In just four games, Trudeau has thrown for 795 yards and 10 touchdowns. Running back Elijah Hodgers missed last week’s win, but ran for 569 yards in the Cowboys’ first three games, including a 230-yard performance against Alhambra. Livermore will be among the contenders in the East Bay Athletic League’s Valley Division, the lower of the two tiers of the EBAL.
Washington Eagles (2-1) @ Oakland Wildcats (1-2), Fri. Sept. 23, 7 p.m.
Academic Athletic Association (AAA) teams are 0-3 against Oakland Athletic League (OAL) schools so far, but the Eagles enter Friday night’s trip to Oakland as heavy favorites. The Wildcats are on a 14-game losing streak, with their last win coming on Oct. 25, 2019. Oakland has been outscored 81-14 this year in losses to Sonoma Valley and Pinole Valley.
“We’re not going to overlook them,” Washington head coach Mike Ramos said of the Wildcats. “They’re run-heavy, but their quarterback isn’t afraid to air it out.”
Galileo forfeits to Richmond
Galileo will finish non-league play winless after forfeiting Friday’s game to the Oilers. Lions head coach Nick Naudain said that seven of his 21 eligible players would be unable to play after parents voiced safety concerns regarding the trip to Richmond.
“They had a concern for potential community violence, specifically shootings and explosions,” Oilers head coach Bryan Fisher said. “In my opinion, this is completely unwarranted. We have one of the safest campuses in our county. I bring my children to practice regularly and allow them to interact with the students and community with no hesitation. I don’t bring my kids to San Francisco, and I never will unless things drastically change.”
“We’re not trying to remove bias, we’re trying to fix our community,” Fisher added. “Some of that bias is warranted with past events. Our community isn’t perfect, but it’s ours and we love it.”
A shooting at Richmond stopped the Oilers’ homecoming game in 2012, but no incidents have taken place at RHS football games since then. Games at other schools in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) have been afflicted by violence in recent years, though. In 2015, neighboring Kennedy was hosting Lincoln in a game that was called after shots were fired near the campus, and in 2019, a shooting outside of a game between De Anza and Pinole Valley left three teenagers injured. In response, the WCCUSD moved kickoff times from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the remainder of the season.
“People have this perception of us because of other schools in the district,” Fisher said. “We haven’t had those problems. Our problem at Richmond is that we don’t have enough kids that want to play football.”
Low roster numbers compounded by injuries forced the Oilers to forfeit last week’s game to Concord.
Other noteworthy Bay Area games
Two big non-league games on the Peninsula should play a part in shaping the Central Coast Section (CCS) playoff picture. Sacred Heart Prep (3-1), fresh off a 35-7 thumping of Riordan, hosts Los Gatos (2-1) at 4 p.m. on Friday. Since a season-opening loss to Southern California power Corona del Mar, the Wildcats have posted back-to-back shutouts. Menlo-Atherton (2-1) visits Wilcox (3-0) three hours later in Santa Clara. M-A already boasts wins over Bellarmine and Elk Grove, while Wilcox, last year’s Northern California Division 2-A champion, has outscored opponents by an average of 24.7 points per game so far. De La Salle (3-1) hosts Folsom (3-1), the team that beat the Spartans last year in the Northern California Division 1-AA Championship by stopping a late two-point conversion. In Pleasanton, Amador Valley (2-1) visits Foothill (2-2) in the latest installment of one of the East Bay’s more spirited crosstown rivalries.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]