Friday’s Bell Game between the Lincoln Mustangs and Washington Eagles is already the most exciting in the series in recent memory, and they haven’t even played a down yet.
A rivalry that’s been a foregone conclusion for years will have sky-high stakes this year, with the winner not only taking the trophy but also claiming sole possession of first place in the Academic Athletic Association (AAA).
Lincoln has won nine straight meetings, including five via shutout, and has won four of the last 10 Turkey Day Games to emerge as city champions. The Mustangs went on to win state titles in both 2018 and 2019. In that same span, Washington has only appeared in the postseason once.
If there’s a time for Washington (7-1, 4-0) to break that trend, this is the year.
The Eagles made a splash with last week’s shutout victory over reigning Turkey Day champ Balboa, and a similar opportunity will present itself at 3 p.m. on Friday at Washington.
“The kids know the recent history of Washington football,” Eagles head coach Mike Ramos said.
The Eagles went winless in Ramos’ first season and won just two games in 2021. Their seven wins this season are already their most in a single campaign since 2011, when they last beat Lincoln.
Despite a shaky start, including a surprising non-league loss to El Camino, the Mustangs are once again up to their old ways in 2022. Lincoln (5-3,4-0 AAA) has won four straight, allowing just 37 points to league opponents while playing a punishing style of run-heavy football.
The Mustangs have been without the services of star running back Ricky Underwood since he broke his collarbone in a season-opening win over Jefferson, but he’ll be set to return tomorrow. Understudy Jamelle Newman has filled in admirably, averaging 91 rushing yards per game, so head coach Phil Ferrigno will have multiple skilled backs at his disposal.
It’ll be Washington’s third consecutive week against a run-heavy foe. Lowell’s double wing gave the Eagles fits in the Battle of the Birds, but they had no such trouble stopping the ground attack last week against Balboa, though the Buccaneers did do them a few favors with faulty snaps. Lincoln’s I-formation is akin to Lowell’s system in that it largely relies on strength, rather than deception.
Washington’s offense will look a bit different this week. Quarterback James Mertz reinjured his knee late in the fourth quarter against Balboa and is expected to be out for the rest of the regular season, meaning Mason Fong will get the start. Fong threw for a touchdown when Mertz left a non-league win over Oakland with a similar injury and started in lopsided wins over Galileo and Burton, but Lincoln will offer a tougher challenge.
“This could be a potential playoff matchup,” Ramos commented.
Both teams are all but mathematically locked into the top two seeds in the AAA playoffs, and would be in line to host semifinal games. Second place would most likely host Balboa in a semifinal, while first place hosts fourth. Lowell has the edge over Mission for the final spot via head-to-head results.
Serra Padres (8-0, 5-0 West Catholic Athletic League) @ St. Ignatius Wildcats (3-5, 2-3), Friday, Oct. 28, 7 p.m.
Serra has dominated recent matchups against the entire WCAL, and while St. Ignatius is no exception, the Wildcats have given the Padres trouble in recent years. Serra has beaten SI in back-to-back seasons, but both games have been closer than the final score would suggest. The April 2021 meeting, which the Padres won 34-3 to conclude an abbreviated Covid season, was just 7-3 at halftime, and though Serra did hold an early 21-0 lead last October, the Wildcats trailed just 24-13 and had the ball in the red zone late in the third quarter.
Slow starts have been an issue for Serra for much of the 2022 season, but Patrick Walsh’s team had no such problems last week in a 36-7 win over Valley Christian. The Padres led 22-0 after a quarter and 36-0 at halftime.
St. Ignatius will also be looking to channel last week’s performance, a stunning 24-21 upset of Mitty on Cooper Lucey’s last-second 18-yard field goal. Soren Hummel threw for three touchdowns in the win, including a 65-yard strike to Moe Barnum.
Galileo Lions (0-7, 0-3 AAA) @ Mission Bears (1-5, 1-2), Friday, Oct. 28, 3 p.m. at Kezar Stadium
Since losing 27-0 to Mission in the 2018 playoffs, it’s been a downhill spiral for Galileo. The Lions have won just two games in the two years since. The Bears beat Galileo 33-8 in last year’s regular season finale and enter this year’s meeting on the heels of their first win of the season, a 53-6 romp over Burton.
Lowell Cardinals (1-5, 1-2 AAA) @ Burton Pumas (0-4, 0-3), Saturday, Oct. 29, 2 p.m.
Lowell and Burton met for a memorable 2019 contest, in which the Cardinals snapped a five-year playoff drought on Ronald Pollick’s game-clinching interception at the goal line. Since then, the Pumas haven’t won a single game.
That loss was the first of Burton’s ongoing 12-game losing streak, throughout which the Pumas have been outscored 533-98. Last year, Lowell beat Burton 53-6 and reached the postseason once again. So long as the Cardinals don’t slip up against the likes of Burton or Galileo, they’ll likely be dancing for a third year in a row.
Bellarmine Bells (3-5, 2-3 WCAL) @ St. Francis Lancers (5-3, 4-1), Friday, Oct. 28, 7 p.m.
While the Bruce-Mahoney Game is the biggest rivalry in the northern half of the WCAL, nothing gets the southern half of the league going quite like the Holy War, which typically attracts a minimum of 5,000 fans and often draws upwards of 8,000. Bellarmine holds a 42-33 all-time series lead, which includes 11 playoff matchups, but the Lancers have won the last six meetings, their longest streak in the series, by an average of 19.7 points. Before St. Francis turned the tides in 2016, the Bells had won 11 in a row from 2006 through 2015, including a 2009 playoff matchup.
Both teams have health concerns with their starting quarterbacks but have the luxury of relying on strong backups. Bellarmine didn’t have quarterback Parker Threatt (knee) in last week’s loss to Sacred Heart Cathedral, while Lancer quarterback Matt Dougherty Jr. left last week’s win over Riordan with a head injury. If their starters can’t go, the Bells will turn to Nate Escalada, who normally starts at safety, while the Lancers will call on sophomore Aaron Knapp.
Mitty Monarchs (6-2, 3-2 WCAL) @ Valley Christian Warriors (1-7, 0-5), Friday, Oct. 28, 7 p.m.
Valley Christian has won eight straight clashes with Mitty, including a double overtime thriller in 2016, but the Monarchs are the heavy favorites entering this year’s meeting, even after last week’s last-second loss to St. Ignatius. That said, the Warriors have been far better at home than they have on the road in WCAL play, with two of their three losses coming by a single score.
Other Noteworthy Bay Area Games
Sacred Heart Prep (7-1, 3-0 Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division) has won seven straight since a season-opening loss at Sacred Heart Cathedral and can clinch an outright league title on Saturday with a home win over rival Menlo-Atherton (5-3, 3-1). M-A hasn’t lost to the Gators since 2014, but will likely once again be without Oregon-bound wide receiver Jurrion Dickey (knee) this weekend.
The football-only merger between the PAL and the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League has led to some teams crossing between divisions, and the El Camino Division title will come down to two teams who have only played in the PAL in past years. Sequoia (8-0, 4-0 PAL El Camino) visits King’s Academy (6-2, 4-0) on Friday night in a game that’ll determine the outright league champion. TKA has won six straight since an 0-2 start to the season, with junior Jeaden Underwood running for 126 yards per game.
Thursday night games have been commonplace in San Jose, and Lincoln (7-1, 2-1 Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division) will host Santa Teresa (4-4, 1-2). The Lions average 33.4 points per game, even after being held to 14 in last week’s loss to Live Oak, while Santa Teresa allows just an average of 14.4. All three of the Saints’ league games have gone to overtime, and they’ve lost the last two of those to Live Oak and Christopher.
Pittsburg (7-1, 3-0 Bay Valley Athletic League) can clinch no worse than a share of a BVAL title on Friday night when the Pirates visit Heritage (6-2, 2-1). The Patriots have scored at least 41 points in five of their six wins, while they’ve been held to 14 or fewer in both of their losses.
In the gauntlet that is the Mountain Division of the East Bay Athletic League, San Ramon Valley (6-2, 1-1) hosts California-San Ramon (5-3, 1-1) on Senior Night. The visiting Grizzlies lost quarterback Jayden Macedo to a shoulder injury last week, but can turn to backup Aiden Camberg if needed.
De La Salle (5-3) has won back-to-back games, and will look to make it three in a row on Friday night at Amador Valley (4-4). The Dons are on a three-game losing streak and have only scored more than 14 points twice this season.
Novato (4-4, 1-3 Marin County Athletic League) hosted Mission earlier this season, and the Hornets will welcome in their biggest crowd of the year on Saturday afternoon when crosstown rival San Marin (7-1, 5-0) pays a visit. The Hornets haven’t beaten the Mustangs since 2014.
Petaluma (7-1, 4-0 Vine Valley Athletic League) visits Casa Grande (4-4, 2-2) at 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon in the appropriately-named Egg Bowl.
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