The annual football game between the Riordan Crusaders and Sacred Heart Cathedral Fightin’ Irish usually decides two things: The winner hoists the Stanfel Cup, while the loser is saddled with the ignominy of finishing last in the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL).
This year, only the trophy is up for grabs.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (5-3, 3-2 WCAL) is battling for a spot in the upper half of the league, and while Riordan (3-5, 1-4) has lost four straight, the Crusaders are in the hunt for a playoff spot.
As it currently stands, Saturday’s game has very little bearing on playoff berths, and is mostly about what Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred would call “a piece of metal.” Unless St. Ignatius pulls off a massive upset against Serra on Friday night, Riordan’s game against SI is going to decide the league’s sixth and final playoff spot, and thanks to the Central Coast Section’s convoluted playoff system, a loss may actually help SHC land in a better playoff bracket.
The CCS sends its top eight teams to the Division I bracket, the next eight to Division II and so on. Last year, SHC was ranked 21st, received the third seed in Division III and went on to win both section and state titles.
SHC is currently in line for the seventh seed in the D-I field. A loss could drop the Fightin’ Irish to ninth or lower, which would slot them into Division II, avoiding the likes of Serra and increasing their chances at a deep playoff run.
Of course, those long-term prospects aren’t going to stop the Fightin’ Irish from going all-out at Riordan’s Mayer Family Field on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s the Stanfel Cup, and Riordan’s our big rival,” head coach Antoine Evans said. “We’re trying to win every game the rest of the way.”
Last year’s 48-21 loss to the Crusaders meant the cup currently sits in purple and gold hands, and it was a game that Riordan won without much of the usual fanfare—not because of COVID, but because of weather. Rain in the week leading up to the 2021 game moved the contest from a Friday night at Kezar Stadium to an afternoon affair at Westmoor High in Daly City, and Riordan landed the first punch and never looked back.
“The kids are thinking about it,” Evans said of the 2021 game.
This year’s game should be played in much more optimal weather, though the wind that blows from west to east at Riordan can alter kicks.
Can Riordan Stop Big Plays?
The combination of RL Miller, Jerry Mixon Jr. and Kendric Sanders has fueled the Sacred Heart Cathedral offense throughout the year, but the Crusaders have limited explosive plays throughout the season, save for a loss to a Mitty team that’s put up big plays on everyone. Defensive backs Zachary Jones and Tyrone Jackson have held their own against some of the Bay Area’s top speedsters, even with Zion Wells out injured for the past three weeks. If Riordan can do so on Saturday, it’ll be a tight game until the final minutes.
Limiting SHC’s individual stars from making game-changing plays isn’t just a job for the Crusader defense, though. Miller showcased his ability to flip the game in seconds on defense last week against Bellarmine, returning an interception for a touchdown and swiping an option pitch in the backfield for another defensive TD.
While Riordan’s defense has done well for itself, the Crusader offense has struggled mightily outside of the first two games. Riordan has scored just 43 points in its last six games, getting shut out by both Bellarmine and St. Francis and only scoring against Serra’s backups in the final minutes with a running clock in effect.
The Crusader offensive line will need to find ways to protect freshman quarterback Michael Mitchell Jr., but that’s easier said than done against an SHC pass rush not only featuring Mixon and Miller, but also incorporating the likes of Zaheer Young, Dermot Fitzpatrick and Benny Hatch. The Irish shut St. Ignatius out and only allowed one long touchdown drive against Bellarmine after Evans changed some of his defensive personnel, moving Jay Murphy to linebacker and starting Jasaun Mabrey and Danilo Salgado in the secondary.
Click here for The Standard’s preview of the rest of this week’s high school football games, including Serra at St. Ignatius and the Bell Game between Lowell and Washington, which will determine sole possession of first place in the Academic Athletic Association (AAA).
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]