By Jeremy Balan
The beginning of the league season begins for every San Francisco high school football team, but it’s the first rivalry game of the season that will be the highlight of the weekend.
They call it the “Bell Game,” a 69-year tradition between Lincoln and Washington that often matches Academic Athletic Association powers. The winner gets to keep the Victory Bell for the year and ring it at the end of the game.
“It’s a great day and a great tradition,” said Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno. “It used to be district against district. All the kids in the Sunset playing against the Richmond. All records are out the window.”
That idea should be comforting to the Mustangs (0-4) who struggled mightily in their four non-league games. Washington (2-1) currently is in possession of the Bell after a 10-0 in the game last season, after Lincoln won the previous four meetings.
But the Mustangs got revenge in the AAA playoffs last season, advancing to the title game against Galileo with a 40-21 win over Washington in the league semifinals.
“It’s always a huge game and there’s been really good competition between us in the past four years,” said fourth-year Washington head coach Karl Finley. “It seems like we always have to go through Lincoln.”
Still, the two programs are at varying stages, with Washington returning a core of seniors and Lincoln featuring a lot of underclassmen.
“We don’t believe in all of that,” Finley said of implications Lincoln might be in a down season. “Last year they didn’t do that well in their preseason, but they went to the Turkey Bowl, so we expect them to be contenders as usual.”
The toughest task for the Lincoln will be stopping the Washington offense that scored 28 and 35 points in its last two wins over Oakland and Irvington of Fremont, respectively. Conversely, Lincoln has allowed a staggering 182 points in its four losses.
“We have to tackle and block better,” Ferrigno said. “It sounds so simple, but we need to do better at both of them. That’s why we’re 0-4.”
On an individual level, the game will feature two dual-threat senior running backs in Lincoln’s Lazare Gubeladze and Washington’s Jeremy Jetton. Both players play offense and defense and participate in special teams plays as well.
Gubeladze ran for 112 yards against El Cerrito last week and had touchdown runs of 30 and 35 yards, to go along with a 95-yard kick return for a touchdown.
“Although it was a very disappointing day for our program, Lazare showed a glimmer of hope for our program,” Ferrigno said. “He’s becoming a leader, but like every kid, he makes mistakes. But he plays hard and with intensity.”
Jetton has led the Eagles rushing attack and has also been a presence in the return game, taking two kickoffs back for touchdowns.
Washington appears to be a heavy favorite heading into the game, but both teams are playing for one moment — to ring that bell.
Mission @ Lowell, 3 p.m.
The Cardinals (0-2) and Bears (0-3) both had forgettable non-league seasons, but both have new life with the beginning of AAA play and will look to secure playoff spots behind favorites Galileo and Washington.
Sacred Heart Cathedral vs. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) @ Foothill College (Los Altos), 7 p.m.
The Fightin’ Irish (3-0) will get their toughest test in both teams’ WCAL opener. We’ll get a good sense of just how good the Irish offense is as they will face a Mitty defense that allowed just over 12 points per game last season. After sharing a WCAL title in 2009, Mitty might be showing slight signs of weakness with two losses in non-league play, albeit to tough Palo Alto and San Ramon Valley teams.
Riordan @ St. Francis (Mountain View), 7:30 p.m.
The Crusaders’ (0-3) struggles figure to continue against the Lancers (2-0-1) which beat Riordan 42-13 last season. Short of something miraculous, St. Francis should cruise in its WCAL opener.
Stuart Hall vs. Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
After getting their first win in school history against Trinity Christian of Monterey last week, the Knights (1-1) will look to get their first Coastal League win over Pinewood (1-1) who lost to Kings Christian of Lemoore last week in a 48-40 shootout.
Bellarmine (San Jose) @ St. Ignatius, 1 p.m.
Will the Wildcats (1-1-1) continue to improve? Their game against 2009 co-league champ Bellarmine (3-0) will be a good gauge of that. St. Ignatius played the Bells tough in 2009, falling 18-11 on the road, but Bellarmine has been dominant in 2010, outscoring opponents 125-41 in its three wins.
Marshall @ Balboa, 2:30 p.m.
Like so many other AAA squads, non-league play was difficult for both teams and league play brings new life. The big-play Bucs (0-4) offense should be able to lift off against a Marshall (0-3) defense that has allowed 125 points in three games.
Galileo @ Burton, 2:30 p.m.
This game may not be a repeat of the 27-0 Galileo shutout last season. After their opening-week win over Mills of Millbrae, the Lions (1-3) have rattled off three consecutive losses and Burton’s (1-3) offense awoke in a 42-30 win over De Anza of Richmond in its last non-league game.