It was never a question of if Serra would beat Riordan on Saturday to retain the Baxter Trophy. It was a question of how.
To the Crusaders’ credit, they forced the top-ranked Padres to completely revamp their offensive approach after Riordan intercepted quarterback Maealiuaki Smith three times in the first quarter, but undefeated Serra still pulled away for a 45-7 win.
“Our defense fought, and I’m really proud of the kids. We came out swinging,” Crusaders head coach Adhir Ravipati said. “We told the kids we had to make this a street fight and throw a haymaker or two to let them know they’re in a game.”
After interceptions by Javius Redding, Mikatoa Scanlan and Zachary Jones, Serra (7-0, 4-0 West Catholic Athletic League) adapted. The Padres switched to their double wing “raider” formation and needed just five plays to score after a punt into the wind gave them a short field. Jaden Green scored on a 27-yard run, and after another Riordan punt into the wind, Danny Niu found the end zone from 12 yards out on a toss play.
“The plan was to throw it a lot, and sometimes plans change,” Serra head coach Patrick Walsh said. “We’re growing on offense.”
Riordan (3-4, 1-3) punted again after Jabari Mann’s thunderous hit on Redding in the backfield, and Smith shook off his difficult first quarter with one emphatic strike, a 41-yard touchdown to Joey Villaroman along the left sideline.
“We’re accelerating Maealiuaki’s learning plan,” Walsh said of his 6-foot-3 quarterback, who has offers from Florida State and Michigan State.
Mann ran in the two-point conversion, and Dylan Joudieh’s 30-yard field goal with 53 seconds left in the first half extended the lead to 24-0.
Smith was credited with two more touchdowns in the third quarter. Serra had great field position after sophomore Teddy Chung’s interception, and what was effectively a sweep to the outside for Jayden Weber officially qualified as a 12-yard touchdown pass, rather than a run, as Smith’s short toss to Weber was legally a forward pass. Malachi Gastrock’s 27-yard run set up Smith’s final touchdown of the day, a 21-yard connection with Kyon Loud that initiated a running clock.
Loud was one of the Padres’ brightest stars on the cloudy Saturday afternoon. He had four catches for 47 yards and three tackles for loss, including two sacks.
“I’m just like a bandit in our defense,” said Loud, who transferred from Bishop O’Dowd.
Backup quarterback Brooks Trimmer ran for Serra’s final score, a 2-yarder on the last play of the third quarter. He nearly scored on the prior play, but fumbled when Xavier Hisatake tackled him at the end of a 50-yard run. Sophomore Jermaine Barrett recovered the loose ball for the Padres to keep the possession alive.
Host Riordan got on the board early in the fourth quarter on a 70-yard touchdown run by JahKeenan Williams-Choa, whose older brother, Jumikal, played basketball at Serra and graduated in 2018.
“JahKeenan’s a kid who hasn’t played football before,” Ravipati said. “He’s a basketball kid, and he’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s 5-foot-8 and can dunk.”
It marked Riordan’s seventh straight loss to Serra, and the fifth to feature a running clock.
“Our seniors know their biggest legacy here isn’t going to be a banner,” Ravipati explained. “It’s gonna be changing the culture.”
The Crusaders, who have been penalty magnets for much of the season, were flagged for just two personal fouls, a facemask at the end of a long Weber pickup in the first quarter and one for pushing and shoving after a whistle on a kickoff that drew Ravipati’s ire. Aside from that gaffe, the attitude on the Riordan sideline was mostly positive, even as the deficit grew.
“We have a lot more fight in us,” Jones said. “We never gave up. If this was last year, they probably would have put up 80, to be honest. The whole team’s hurt. and we’re low on numbers, but we’re still fighting. That’s the culture now.”
While Hisatake returned from his injury, the Crusaders were still without King-Njhsanni Wilhite, Zion Wells and Tony Manu. Jacob Kleppin and Redding joined the injury list during the game, with Kleppin injuring his arm and Redding entering concussion protocol after running 14 times for 57 yards.
Perhaps the ignominy of the running clock could have been avoided if Riordan had capitalized on its opening possession. Redding followed his interception with a 14-yard gain, and freshman quarterback Michael Mitchell Jr.’s 13-yard pass to Tyrone Jackson converted a third-and-11 and put the Crusaders into the red zone, but they failed to score. Loud dropped Redding for a loss on the next play, Chung nearly intercepted a pass on third down and a 39-yard field goal attempt never got close. Green may have gotten a fingertip on the ball, and even if he didn’t, his presence alone was enough to interfere with the kick.
“If we had been able to punch that in, maybe we get a little momentum,” Ravipati reflected.
The run-heavy scheme that Serra used to get things moving was the same one that the Padres used at the start of the season to beat Sacramento power Folsom. Since then, Smith has directed the offense with exceptional composure, including in a dramatic comeback win at De La Salle on national TV. He had been intercepted just four times on the season before Saturday.
“We thought we might have some opportunities to be able to create some takeaways through the air,” Ravipati said.
Riordan hosts St. Francis (4-3, 3-1) next Saturday at 2 p.m., the second of three consecutive home games for the Crusaders. Serra hosts Valley Christian (1-6, 0-4) at the same time, part of the Padres’ annual Polynesian Day celebrations.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]