The St. Ignatius Wildcats celebrated two massive victories on Friday night.
First, the school welcomed a massive crowd to J.B. Murphy Field for the inaugural football game played under permanent lights, a milestone reached after years of negotiations with neighbors and the city. Then came the game itself, a dominant 41-6 victory over the Palo Alto Vikings to open the 2022 campaign on a high note.
“The school did an awesome job of committing to getting lights for the field, and the administration is very committed to creating an atmosphere that’s student-centered,” head coach John Regalia said. “It’s about celebrating the full community together, and that’s what we saw tonight.”
With pregame festivities that featured food, tailgate games, live music from a student band and even a mechanical bull, the atmosphere in the Sunset District was raucous long before the game began, and it translated to the team. Instead of early jitters, the Wildcats came out swinging, scoring four times before the end of the first quarter.
“We’ve been really excited for this,” wide receiver Gus Parker said. “The whole school was hyping it up all week. The whole community came out and supported us.”
Parker found the end zone three times before the halfway point of the second quarter, hauling in a pair of Mac McAndrews passes and running back a punt on a bizarre play where almost everyone else on the field and in the stands thought the Palo Alto defense would simply down the ball.
Already leading 21-0 late in the first quarter, the Wildcats forced Palo Alto (0-1) to punt after a three-and-out. Heavy pressure on the Viking punter led to a high, short kick to a vacant spot along the SI sideline. Rather than let the play end, Parker swooped in, picked the ball up on a hop and ran for an uncontested 24-yard score.
“I told everyone else to get away with it, it bounced straight up and it fell right into my hands,” Parker explained.
The punt return was a perfect representation of the night for St. Ignatius (1-0), an evening where it seemed almost too easy against a Palo Alto program that typically ranks among the top public schools in the Central Coast Section. Admittedly, the Vikings were dealing with significant injuries to their wide receiver group, but the Wildcats, fueled by the grandeur of the occasion, were simply too much to handle.
Colin Mulkerrins recovered a fumbled snap to end Palo Alto’s opening drive and set the SI offense up with a short field, leading to Cameron Jones’ 1-yard touchdown run. After sophomore linebacker Sui Gallegos Hunkin recovered another bad snap, junior quarterback Mac McAndrews went to work, hitting Moe Barnum for a 23-yard touchdown pass. The Wildcats started each of their first three drives in plus territory, and they needed just two plays for their third score as McAndrews hit Barnum for a 12-yard completion before connecting with a wide-open Parker on a 34-yard strike.
“Gus is a mismatch for any secondary,” said McAndrews, who completed all seven of his passes for three touchdowns and 126 yards. “He runs a legit 4.6 (40-yard dash). He’s one of the best receivers in the (West Catholic Athletic League).”
Parker was a dominant force among a group of receivers and tight ends that saw nine different players record receptions. His breakout performance showed that SI has more than just depth at the position; he can serve as the primary target, whether that’s for short receptions or as a deep threat. It was a hole that needed to be filled after graduating Ryan Ivers, and it took little time for Parker to seize that role.
McAndrews connected with Parker again on a 28-yard score for a 34-0 lead before giving way to sophomore Soren Hummel. Since 2019, the Wildcats have worked with a two-quarterback system, and Hummel took a few snaps during McAndrews’ early drives before taking complete control midway through the second quarter. His short pass to Ethan Arguelles yielded a 15-yard score for his first varsity touchdown, and he finished 7-for-9 for 69 yards.
Though the offensive onslaught came to an end in the second half, with a running clock for the fourth quarter, the enthusiasm of the home crowd hardly stopped with the outcome well in hand. Palo Alto’s Orasio Becerra blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter, and the Vikings broke the shutout on Jack Newman’s two-yard touchdown run with under three minutes remaining, a score that came against SI’s second- and third-stringers.
“The students stayed in the stands until the end of the game,” Regalia commented. “There were things for them to do after school to keep them on campus and get them out to the JV game.”
For much of the 2010s, football had been an afterthought at St. Ignatius, save for the requisite big crowd that showed up for the yearly Bruce-Mahoney Game against archrival Sacred Heart Cathedral. The 2019 season marked the beginning of a new era for the SI community, with school administration working to increase student support, even when home games were still played on Saturday afternoons.
“Tonight it was a football game,” Regalia said. “It could be a theater performance, it could be a liturgy, it could be a lot of things. That’s what SI has always been about.”
Students and neighbors captivated by the atmosphere won’t have to wait long for an encore. The Wildcats host Jesuit-Carmichael (1-0) next Friday.
“We know we have harder weeks ahead, and we’re gonna be prepared for it when the time comes,” said Parker.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]