“We don’t get involved in that sort of nonsense,” said Serra Padres head coach Patrick Walsh when asked if he was watching Friday’s visit to De La Salle
The clash between the Peninsula and East Bay will be broadcast on ESPNU from 8 p.m. for those who do want to watch it.
“It just detracts us from stepping with the correct foot, perfect fundamentals and the perfect attention that you need to beat a team like De La Salle,” said Walsh.
Talk about regional superiority may not enter the weight room at Serra, but Friday’s game is about much more than two storied football programs going head-to-head.
The De La Salle Spartans spent 30 years as the dominant power in Northern California, often ranking atop national polls.
From 1991 until 2021, the Spartans didn’t lose to an in-state foe from north of Fresno, though there were some close calls, like ties with Palma and Clayton Valley in 2004.
Southern California teams and out-of-state opponents caught up with the Spartans over time, but everything north of Fresno was De La Salle territory.
Serra came tantalizingly close in 2008, 2009 and 2013, and Bellarmine missed a potential game-winning extra point in 2011.
Local rivals Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley each gave the Spartans a run for their money once or twice per decade, but those games stood out as the rare close calls in matchups that were otherwise dominated by blowouts that finished with a running clock.
The streak finally ended after 318 straight games without a loss against Northern California competition on Sept. 10, 2021 with a 31-28 defeat at the hands of St. Francis.
The Lancers dominated the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL), finishing an undefeated regular season with a 44-21 thrashing of Serra, but the Padres got the last laugh with a 16-12 victory in the Central Coast Section (CCS) Division I Championship Game, a contest remembered not only for Serra’s stellar defense, but for a 30-minute delay in the fourth quarter when gunshots were fired from the stadium’s parking lot. De La Salle went on to win the North Coast Section (NCS) Open Division, but fell to Folsom in the Northern California Division 1-AA Championship.
Like the 2004 team that barely escaped with ties against Clayton Valley and Palma, the 2021 season might have just been an aberration for the Spartans. But there’s a chance for a serious shift in the balance of power in Northern California football if Serra can win at Owen Owens Field on Friday night, in a game that kicks off at 8 p.m. in Concord, just a few feet to the northeast of the boundary with Walnut Creek. Fans unable to secure tickets at the stadium, which holds less than 3,000 spectators, can tune in on ESPNU.
For De La Salle to slip up against NorCal competition at some point was inevitable. No streaks last forever, no matter how dominant a team may be.
But if Serra can pull off a road victory on Friday night, it would show that the top football teams in Northern California now reside on the Peninsula. The Padres already proved their worth last week, riding an incredible defensive performance to a 17-12 win to silence a packed crowd on a hot night in Folsom. If they can do it again, it would mark the second straight year a WCAL team has beaten the Spartans.
Playing on the road, with temperatures expected to hover between 80 and 90 degrees at kickoff time, won’t be easy. But results against mutual opponents in this nascent 2022 campaign do lean Serra’s way. A week before falling to the Padres, Folsom beat Monterey Trail-Elk Grove, 47-18. De La Salle went on the road to face that same Monterey Trail team last week, and held just a two-point lead in the fourth quarter before sealing the game with a pair of late Charles Greer touchdowns. The world of sports betting has yet to tap into high school football, but if oddsmakers were setting a line on the game, it would be close to even.
While Serra’s defense led the way in the win over the Bulldogs, the offense provided a blast from the past by running the ball in an old school double wing formation, a system the Padres used under Walsh until the mid-2010s, when they embraced a more modern spread offense. The spread attack has been pivotal in helping Serra ascend from good to great, but Walsh and offensive coordinator Darius Bell’s willingness to break out the double wing as needed showed that they’ll adapt mid-game to the parameters of the situation, a stark contrast to the bulk of high school programs that run one offense up and down the field, regardless of the situation or score.
The Spartans won’t only have to prepare for multiple looks from the Serra offense. They’ll also need to prepare for multiple quarterbacks. Junior Maealiuaki Smith, who transferred in as a sophomore after moving to the Bay Area from Sacramento, got the start last week, but the Padres also utilized senior Alexander Atkins in a handful of the double wing packages. Extra attention will also be paid to junior running back Marley Alapati, who transferred from De La Salle over to Serra after a family move.
Jesuit Marauders (1-0) @ St. Ignatius Wildcats (1-0), Fri. Sept. 2, 7 p.m.
Scheduling matchups against other Jesuit institutions has been a constant theme across the St. Ignatius athletic department, and the Wildcats will be in for a stiff test in their second game under permanent lights when they welcome in a Marauders side that’s firmly established as one of the top teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section (SJS). It’ll be Jesuit’s second straight long trip; the Marauders climbed the mountains to beat Bishop Manogue-Reno last Friday, 30-23. In the win over the Miners, Anthony Seibles and Jagger Shaddix each broke 100 rushing yards and Ikechukwu Ikegbu recorded four sacks.
Lincoln Mustangs (1-0) @ Terra Nova Tigers (1-0), Fri. Sept. 2, 7 p.m.
Three of Lincoln’s first four games are against opponents from the Peninsula Athletic League (PAL), and Friday’s visit to Pacifica to battle Terra Nova should be the toughest of those tests. The Tigers spent much of the past two decades as the top public school in San Mateo County, battling for superiority with the likes of Aragon and Menlo-Atherton, and while they’ve taken a bit of a step back in recent years, they still play a punishing brand of football. They beat Lincoln 41-7 last year and opened their 2022 season with a 42-21 victory over Santa Clara. The ironically named Mason Mini, who stands at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, is committed to play tight end at the University of Idaho, but currently plays QB for Terra Nova. He threw just seven times in last week’s win over the Bruins, but mustered 199 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns while Mateo Corona piled up 101 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Sacred Heart Cathedral Fightin’ Irish (1-0) @ Palma Chieftains (0-1), Fri. Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m. at Rabobank Stadium
The Fightin’ Irish will meet Palma for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and they’ll be looking to flip the script on the Salinas Catholic school power. The Chieftains have won the prior three meetings, but those games have been decided by an average of eight points. If there’s a time to cash in against Palma, it’s now. The Chieftains graduated quarterback Luke Rossi, now playing baseball at USF, and defensive end Joseph Finley from a talented senior class. While they still have Logan Saldate, a junior wide receiver with offers from Cal and Oklahoma State, they’ve been on a downward trend as of late, one that coincides with the rise of rival Salinas High. Palma opened the season with a 29-7 loss at Mitty.
Skyline Titans @ Balboa Buccaneers, Sat. Sept. 3, 2 p.m.
The Buccaneers open with the Titans for a second straight year, having lost 40-17 in their 2021 tilt. Don’t expect Balboa or other Academic Athletic Association (AAA) teams to serve as pushovers in nonleague play this time around, though. Last year, the Bucs and the rest of the league’s teams were hindered by lack of experience. Other schools played a shortened spring football season in 2021 to compensate for the canceled 2020 schedule, but San Francisco public schools did not, lacking the necessary support from their school district and the city’s Department of Public Health.
Archie Williams Peregrine Falcons (0-1) @ Lowell Cardinals (0-1), Sat. Sept. 3, 2 p.m.
The Cardinals will play their home opener against the Peregrine Falcons on Saturday afternoon. Archie Williams, known as Drake until the end of the 2020-21 school year, played a wild game against Salesian to open the season, falling 51-34. Nate Karpay-Brody ran for three touchdowns and 200 yards on just 10 carries, but the Falcons were undone by turnovers, yielding a pair of pick sixes. Lowell showed offensive prowess early on in a loss at Monta Vista-Cupertino, but the Cardinals were shut out in the second half and squandered a two-touchdown lead. Lowell played Archie Williams on the road last year, losing 39-0.
Irvington Vikings (0-1) @ Washington Eagles (1-0), Sat. Sept. 3, 3 p.m.
The Eagles will be gunning for their first 2-0 start since 2008 when the Vikings make the trip over from Fremont on Saturday afternoon. The teams will be on even rest when Saturday’s game kicks off as both played last Saturday. Washington rolled to a 49-14 win over Ygnacio Valley, while Irvington watched a 14-0 halftime lead slip away in a 15-14 loss at Napa, a heartbreaker where the Grizzlies took their only lead of the game on a field goal with 1:33 remaining. Jacob Santos ran for both Viking touchdowns in the first half. Irvington, the alma mater of former Seattle Seahawks running back Robert Turbin, posted a 7-3 record last season but failed to qualify for the North Coast Section (NCS) Division 2 Playoffs due to a weak strength of schedule.
Mission Bears @ Oakland Tech Bulldogs, Sat. Sept. 3, 11 a.m.
The first of three games between Academic Athletic Association (AAA) and Oakland Athletic League (OAL) teams, the Bears will look to start the 2022 season on a better note than when they last met the Bulldogs. The lack of a 2020 season was evident when AAA teams took on nonleague opponents that at least got to play some semblance of a shortened COVID season, and none of those stood out more than when Oakland Tech handed Mission a 49-0 beatdown. First-year head coach Terrill Vinson is confident that his defense will put up a far better showing than in last year’s contest, relying on the efforts of Isaiah Pearson and Tolaopa Fua.
A better showing would entail stopping a Bulldogs running attack led by Anthony Alonzo, who has linemen Kai Ikeda, Zachary Mohamed and sophomore Master Scott clearing the way ahead of him. Omar Staples, who serves as a power forward on Oakland Tech’s basketball team, lines up at defensive end and has serious potential to play at the next level.
Galileo Lions @ Terra Linda Trojans (0-1), Fri. Sept. 2, 7 p.m. at San Rafael HS
Expect the Trojans to air the ball out when they host Galileo. Terra Linda fell 41-21 at Petaluma to open the season, but saw junior quarterback Garrett Pardo complete 12 of 18 passes for 233 yards and a pair of scores. Pardo is under the direction of offensive coordinator Joe Ayoob, a Terra Linda alum who started nine games at quarterback for Cal in 2005. Nonleague play was unkind to Galileo last year; the Lions lost both of their contests by a combined score of 127-0, and 2019 didn’t go much better. In their past six games against teams from outside of San Francisco, they’ve mustered just six points. Galileo’s last nonleague win came on Sept. 22, 2018, a 54-0 road thumping of San Lorenzo. All four of this year’s nonleague opponents hail from the NCS, with Kennedy-Richmond, Berkeley and Richmond to follow.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]