Last week, Sacred Heart Cathedral’s motto was to “take over.” Coaches even had sweatshirts made for the occasion, and the team responded accordingly, beating Riordan to claim the Stanfel Cup and complete a sweep of its crosstown Catholic rivals.
This week’s phrase is “shock the world.” The Fightin’ Irish will be underdogs on Saturday when they visit the Serra to conclude the regular season against a Padres team eyeing history.
Since opening the season with landmark wins over Folsom and De La Salle, discussions surrounding the Padres have centered on two things: their chances of earning the Northern California Open Division berth for a second season in a row, and their quest for the first 10-0 regular season in program history.
For all the great names that have played for Serra over the years, including Tom Brady and Lynn Swann, and for all the success that the Padres have enjoyed since Patrick Walsh took over the program in 2001, a 10-0 season has eluded the San Mateo school.
The Padres have enjoyed just three undefeated seasons in program history. They swept an eight-game campaign in 1949, went 9-0 in 1954 and went 5-0 in a pandemic-shortened spring 2021 season. Their closest bid for that elusive 10-0 mark came in 2019, when they lost by a point to St. Ignatius in the final game of the regular season, nearly erasing a two-touchdown deficit but getting stopped on a potential game-winning two-point conversion.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (6-3, 4-2 West Catholic Athletic League) stands as the final team in the way of Serra’s bid for perfection. In most years, this game would be a foregone conclusion. The Fightin’ Irish haven’t beaten the Padres since 1997, and across the last 18 meetings, Serra has won by an average of 26.2 points.
The gap between the two is much smaller this year. Yes, Serra (9-0, 6-0) is still the clear favorite, but the Fightin’ Irish can boast the same sort of suffocating defense that the Padres have rode to nine consecutive wins. Jerry Mixon Jr., RL Miller and Zaheer Young have been monsters all year long, but personnel changes before the Bruce-Mahoney Game, including Jay Murphy’s move to middle linebacker and the introduction of Danilo Salgado in the secondary, have helped Antoine Evans’ team find a new gear. Of the 37 points the Fightin’ Irish have conceded in their last three games, seven came off a short field and another seven came against backups at the end of last week’s win, leaving the restructured defense culpable for just 23 points in three weeks.
Serra’s defense has been even better. The Padres have allowed exactly seven points in each of their six WCAL games. Of the six touchdowns Serra has allowed to league opponents, only two came in the first half. Both Mitty and Riordan scored against backups, St. Ignatius didn’t score until there were four minutes remaining, and Valley Christian’s lone points came on a fumble.
The Padres may not have an individual player as accomplished as Mixon or Miller, but they have an enormous group of players that aren’t far off, and have plenty of college interest. Seamus Gilmartin starts at both tight end and defensive end, while Jabari Mann and Danny Niu both play running back and linebacker. All three of them, along with safety Joseph Bey and quarterback Maealiuaki Smith, are 3-star recruits. Alexander Atkins, who had three interceptions last week, wide receiver Kyon Loud and three-year varsity linebacker Collin Tahitua would all be standouts on ordinary teams, but at Serra, they fit right in with other future college players.
Last week’s win locked up at least a shared WCAL championship for Serra, and if St. Francis loses at Mitty on Friday night, the Padres would have an outright league title secured before they even take the field on Saturday. But it’s clear that Serra’s goals this season are much, much bigger.
Mission Bears (2-5, 2-2 Academic Athletic Association) @ Balboa Buccaneers (3-5, 2-2), Saturday, 2 p.m.
Between injuries, penalties and turnovers, it’s warranted for both the Bears and Buccaneers to feel like they’re cursed in 2022.
And yet, the winner of Saturday’s game will almost certainly be playoff bound.
Neither team can officially punch their postseason ticket until next Friday, but a 3-2 record with one week remaining will have Saturday’s victor in excellent position to continue its postseason streaks. Mission hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2009, when the Bears failed to get a team on the field for league games. Before that, the Bears last missed out in 2003. Balboa hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2017, and has played in each of the last two Turkey Day Games.
Avoiding penalties will be paramount for both sides. Both teams have a comprehensive list of playmakers, from Mission’s Taevon Mitchell and Zaden Cato to Balboa’s Dontae Allen-Wilson and Santiago Alvarez. But flags have frequently negated big plays for the Bears and Buccaneers throughout the 2022 season.
Galileo Lions (0-8, 0-4 AAA) @ Lowell Cardinals (2-5, 2-2), Friday, 3 p.m.
Like Mission and Balboa, Lowell can’t officially lock into a playoff spot with a win this week, but the Cardinals can put themselves in position to clinch should they beat the Lions. Lowell has a head-to-head win over Mission, ensuring the upper hand if the Cardinals and Bears end up tied, leaving a potential three-way tiebreaker as the only scenario in which Lowell could be on the outside looking in.
Lincoln Mustangs (6-3, 5-0 AAA) @ Burton Pumas (0-5, 0-4), Saturday, 2 p.m.
Barring some sort of divine intervention, the Mustangs should be able to clinch a fourth consecutive outright regular season league championship on Saturday afternoon. Their 49-0 win over Washington last week came against a banged-up Eagles squad, but Burton lost to the same Washington squad 64-0, even with quarterback James Mertz sidelined.
St. Francis Lancers (6-3, 5-1 WCAL) @ Mitty Monarchs (7-2, 4-2), Friday, 7 p.m. at Foothill College
A win and a Sacred Heart Cathedral upset of Serra would give St. Francis a surprising share of the WCAL title in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for an inexperienced squad. Both teams are playing to ensure a top four seed and a home game to start the Central Coast Section (CCS) Division I Playoffs.
Valley Christian Warriors (1-8, 0-6 WCAL) @ Bellarmine Bells (3-6, 2-4), Friday, 7 p.m. at San Jose City College
The Bells are locked into a playoff spot thanks to Riordan’s loss to Sacred Heart Cathedral, but they’ll likely need to win on Senior Night to ensure a home game to open the CCS Division II Playoffs. Last week’s loss to Mitty officially eliminated Valley Christian from contention.
Other Noteworthy Bay Area Games
De La Salle (6-3) hasn’t lost to a North Coast Section foe since 1991, but that distinction will be on the line Friday night when the Spartans make the short trip to Clayton Valley (6-3). The pass-happy Ugly Eagles have won five games in a row.
The final week of the season in both the CCS and North Coast Section (NCS) is filled with local rivalry games. Contra Costa County will see San Ramon Valley (7-2, 2-1 East Bay Athletic League Mountain Division) visit Monte Vista (2-7, 1-2) with the Jim Geldermann Perpetual Trophy up for grabs. Pittsburg (8-1, 4-0 Bay Valley Athletic League) travels to Antioch (4-5, 3-1) for the 104th Big Little Game, and Heritage (6-3, 2-2 BVAL) hosts Liberty (6-3, 3-1) in the Brentwood Bowl.
There’s no shortage of huge games in the North Bay, either. Reigning state champions will meet in Novato on Friday night with a league title on the line as San Marin (8-1, 6-0 Marin County Athletic League) hosts Marin Catholic (9-0, 4-0), and Sonoma County will be captivated by the battle for the North Bay League Oak Division crown as Cardinal Newman (6-3, 3-1 NBL Oak) visits Windsor (7-2, 4-0). Windsor beat Lincoln back in September.
Even though San Mateo and Santa Clara County have both eschewed many traditional local rivalries in favor of competitively balanced games, there’ll still be plenty of hardware on the line in regular season finales down the Peninsula. Burlingame (4-5) has won 12 straight Little Big Games, but San Mateo (7-2) enters the 95th edition with a six-game winning streak and a Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division title in tow, with kickoff scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday.
Sequoia (8-1) hosts Carlmont (4-5) for the Terremere Trophy on Friday night, while Hillsdale (5-4) visits Aragon (3-6) in the Battle of the Fleas, named after the schools’ location along Alameda de las Pulgas. Half Moon Bay (7-2) hosts Terra Nova (7-2) in the Skull Game. While the teams have been playing since 1965, the trophy was first awarded in 2005. Mills (3-6) hosts Capuchino (4-5) in the Battle of the Strip, and on Saturday afternoon, El Camino (6-3) will visit South San Francisco (6-3) in the 60th Bell Game. South City was unable to field a varsity team last year, putting the series on a brief hiatus.
Sacred Heart Prep (8-1, 4-0 PAL Bay) has already secured an outright league title, but will try to go a perfect 5-for-5 in league play and reclaim Valparaiso Avenue bragging rights against Menlo (5-4, 2-2) in Valparaiso Bowl XX. Los Gatos (7-2) and Menlo-Atherton (5-4) will also play on Friday night; the two schools may be separated by geography, but have developed a rivalry as two of the Peninsula’s best public school programs.
The southern half of the CCS doesn’t necessarily try to schedule all of its rivalry games for the final week of the season, but there are plenty of key games for fans to enjoy, whether they’re for league titles or local bragging rights. In San Jose, Pioneer (8-1, 4-0 Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa Foothill Division) visits Branham (8-1, 4-0) with a league title at stake on Thursday, and Oak Grove (4-5, 1-3 BVAL Mount Hamilton) visits Santa Teresa (4-5, 1-3) with the Mount Hamilton Division’s final playoff berth on the line.
Fans in the Salinas area couldn’t have asked for a better finish to the regular season. Salinas (8-1, 4-1 Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division) hosts Palma (8-1, 5-0) at The Pit with the league title on the line. The Chieftains can win the title outright with a victory, while Salinas is looking to split the championship. Aptos (7-2, 4-1 PCAL Gabilan) would be able to get in on a shared title as well with a victory over Hollister (5-4, 3-2) and a Cowboys win. The Battle of the Bay is also being played on Friday night at Monterey Peninsula College. Seaside (6-3, 4-1 PCAL Gabilan) has already locked up an automatic playoff berth, but Monterey (5-4, 3-2) needs a win to do so as well.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]