Aside from the venue, don’t expect Saturday’s rematch between the St. Ignatius Wildcats and Bellarmine Bells to look anything like the first time the teams met.
The Central Coast Section (CCS) Division II Championship Game will kick off at 7 p.m. on Saturday night at San Jose City College, which is technically a neutral site but serves as Bellarmine’s home field.
The other four championship games are all at true neutral sites, and Bellarmine is the lower seed. So why is this game at SJCC?
The venue had been booked for three of the section’s five championship games long before matchups were determined, and with Bellarmine families staffing the concession stands and other stadium elements, it was only logical for commissioner Dave Grissom and the rest of the CCS to put the Bells at SJCC, rather than somewhere like Sequoia that would be more of a central location for the two schools.
When the Bells hosted the Wildcats on Sept. 23, they rolled to a 34-14 win to open West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) play. A week later, the Wildcats fell 42-20 to St. Francis to fall to 1-4. Since then, St. Ignatius (6-6) has won five of seven, and one of those two losses was to Serra, the Bay Area’s top team.
A heavy influx of sophomores has fueled second-seeded SI’s recent surge. Sophomore quarterback Soren Hummel took over after Mac McAndrews was injured against the Bells, and aside from a hiccup against rival Sacred Heart Cathedral, he’s been excellent. Last Friday’s semifinal win over Aptos was arguably his best performance yet, completing 17 of 22 passes for 210 yards and a pair of scores. Cameron Jones and Jarious Hogan have fueled a run game that’s been steadily improving over the course of the season, and the Class of 2025 has a heavy presence on defense as well with middle linebacker Sui Gallegos-Hunkin and safety Jake Boyden.
Fifth-seeded Bellarmine (6-6) is rounding into form as well. Since that Sept. 23 win to open WCAL play, the Bells have been crippled by injuries to the point where they had as many as 14 players out in a loss to Sacred Heart Cathedral on Oct. 21. They kept the Irish close that night, but reached a low point the following week in a 31-10 defeat to rival St. Francis.
Trailing 19-7 in the third quarter on Senior Night to last place Valley Christian, something finally clicked for the Bells. They scored 21 points before the end of that quarter and went on to win 37-19, then avenged a season-opening loss by beating Menlo-Atherton 30-7 in the quarterfinal round, though it’s worth noting the Bears had lost superstar wide receiver Jurrion Dickey to a knee injury between the two times the teams faced off. A 21-17 win at top-seeded Wilcox last week was the Bells’ magnum opus, as they forced three turnovers to beat the defending CCS Division II and Northern California Division 2-A champs, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on Nate Escalada’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Colin Lakkaraju with 5:13 left.
Escalada had served as a backup to Parker Threatt for most of the season, starting at safety to showcase his defensive abilities. He started in place of an injured Threatt in that Oct. 21 loss to SHC and has stayed in the position ever since, with Threatt making cameos at wide receiver since his return. Lakkaraju had missed much of the season with lingering concussion symptoms. The quarterfinal win over M-A was his first action since the 34-14 win over the Wildcats.
On that September night, Threatt completed 22 of 30 passes for 219 yards and Ben Pfaff ran for three scores as the Bells opened up a 27-0 halftime lead. Pfaff was injured on the first play the following week against Riordan and returned against St. Francis, though he’s seen limited carries in three of his last four games. The one exception was the quarterfinal against M-A, when he ran 16 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s the Wildcats’ first section championship appearance since 2014, when they lost 11-8 to Aptos in the Division III final. Their last title came in 2012, when they stunned the Bells in overtime to win the Open Division after Bellarmine made a mind-boggling decision to go for fourth-and-goal with a minute left in regulation instead of kick a go-ahead 20-yard field goal. Bellarmine last won a section title in 2015, beating Milpitas in Open Division I.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]