The parameters for Friday night’s football game between the Riordan Crusaders and host St. Ignatius Wildcats are simple.
The winner gets the Gil Haskell Trophy and advances to the playoffs. The loser’s season is finished.
Such a straightforward scenario is rare in the Central Coast Section (CCS). Determining who qualifies for the playoffs often requires a multistep process that combines a power points system with computer rankings. That won’t be necessary on Friday night, though. The West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) is the section’s strongest league, and is allotted the maximum six possible playoff berths. Five teams have already been locked into the league’s top six spots, and Friday night’s winner will be the sixth.
It’s not like these teams are just playing for a low playoff seed with longshot odds. One doesn’t have to look far to find the last time the sixth WCAL team parlayed its position into a deep playoff run. Sacred Heart Cathedral finished sixth last year, beating Mitty on the final day of the season to clinch a playoff berth, and went on to win the CCS Division III and California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) 4-A titles.
Recent head-to-head history favors St. Ignatius. Since the trophy was introduced in 2015, the Wildcats have won five of seven meetings, including three by shutout, but last October’s contest was a verifiable thriller, with SI forcing five turnovers and holding on late for a 24-21 win after opening up a 17-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.
St. Ignatius (3-6, 2-4 West Catholic Athletic League) enters Friday night having quietly played some of its best football in recent weeks. Since allowing 42 points to St. Francis on Sept. 30, the Wildcats have yielded just 52 total points across their past four games, and that 52 includes 17 caused by turnovers. An Oct. 21 upset of Mitty turned heads, and even in last week’s loss to Serra, the Wildcats allowed just two offensive touchdowns.
Riordan (3-6, 1-5) is currently mired in a five-game losing streak, but is getting healthy at the right time. Javius Redding, who plays both running back and cornerback, returned from a concussion last week, and wide receiver-cornerback combo Zion Wells came back after missing three games to illness. However, standout defensive end Isiah Chala’s status is in question after he suffered an injury in the fourth quarter of last week’s defeat against Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Friday will be Senior Night at SI, and while both teams’ seniors will be playing to extend their careers, the offenses will be led by two young quarterbacks. Riordan starts a freshman, Michael Mitchell Jr., while sophomore Soren Hummel has started the last five games for the Wildcats, taking over after Mac McAndrews injured his shoulder in a Sept. 23 loss at Bellarmine. McAndrews lined up at wide receiver in last week’s loss to Serra, all but confirming Hummel’s status as QB1 for the remainder of the season.
Results against mutual opponents would suggest a slight advantage for the Wildcats. Two weeks before SI beat Mitty, the Monarchs delivered an early knockout blow to the Crusaders, scoring three touchdowns in the first five minutes. Both teams beat last-place Valley Christian, with the Wildcats doing so in much more convincing fashion. However, Riordan lost a nail-biter to a Bellarmine team that crushed St. Ignatius, and both teams played competitive games against SHC, although they unfolded in contrasting styles.
Current projections have the winner of tomorrow night’s game likely headed for one of the lower seeds in the CCS Division II field and a quarterfinal game on the road next Friday.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]