By Jeremy Balan
In a football season where so many things have gone as planned in San Francisco, the first considerable upset of the year came from the most unlikely source — Archbishop Riordan High School.
Behind the play of standout senior wide receiver and defensive back A.J. Lewis, the Crusaders stunned rival St. Ignatius 21-14 on Saturday.
Riordan’s struggles have been well documented this season and the win is the first for the Crusaders and first-year head coach Bryan Blake, a St. Ignatius graduate, who was visibly emotional after the game.
“I’m just so happy for our kids,” Blake said. “They work so hard all year long and everybody picks them to lose. They just don’t care. I’m just so proud of them and how they can have this feeling.”
Lewis began the day by returning the opening kickoff 85 yards for the touchdown and the Crusaders (1-4, 1-1) carried that 7-0 lead into the half, but St. Ignatius scored twice in the third quarter to take the 14-7 lead.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Lewis made his presence felt again when he intercepted a pass from St. Ignatius quarterback Jeff Farlow and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown with 6:43 remaining in the game.
“We played all four quarters, we never stopped going,” Lewis said. “I try to keep it to myself and be humble, but I feel like if I go hard I can be unstoppable.”
The score was quickly forgotten, however, as Riordan kicker Henry Soto missed the ensuing extra point, allowing the Wildcats (1-3-1) to cling to a 14-13 lead.
But the Crusaders forced St. Ignatius to punt on their next drive, and junior quarterback Ismael Orozco had just under five minutes to complete the game-winning drive from the Riordan 45-yard line.
Orozco ran for 17 yards and completed 3-of-4 passes for 33 yards on the drive, including the eventual game-winning score on an 11-yard pass to Trejon Bolden with just 1:32 remaining.
“He took control of the team, made some great reads and put the ball where it needed to go,” Blake said. “He gave us an opportunity to win the game.”
Lewis was also a considerable presence on the last drive, catching a pass for a crucial first down and drawing a pass interference call to set up the game-winning score.
Lewis finished with 61 yards on five receptions and led the Crusaders with a team-high nine tackles as a defensive back.
“A.J. Lewis is a big-time player,” Blake said. “The kid makes big plays when everybody knows he has to make a big play. He’s a special kid.”
St. Ignatius advanced the ball to midfield on their last drive, but faced fourth-and-long from their own 45-yard line. Zac Shuller broke open deep up the middle of the field, but Farlow overthrew his receiver, and Orozco kneeled to end the game.
For St. Ignatius, the loss was more than discouraging. Riordan had lost its first four games by a combined 197-71 and the Wildcats won last year’s meeting 34-16. The Wildcats also outgained Riordan 260-139
“I can’t [describe how I feel],” said St. Ignatius head coach Steve Bluford. “It’s just not good. We have to play better defense, run the ball better, pass the ball better, block better and tackle better. We’re just not doing very well right now.”
St. Ignatius appeared to take control of the game and momentum in the third quarter, driving easily down the field for back-to-back scores on 18 consecutive running plays.
The Wildcats then recovered a Riordan fumble the the Crusaders 17-yard line on the first play after their final score. But the Riordan defense forced St. Ignatius to turn the ball over on downs.
Riordan punted on its next drive, setting up Lewis’ interception.
After running the ball at-will throughout the third quarter, St. Ignatius decided to go to the air and Farlow’s ill-advised pass turned the momentum back toward the Crusaders.
Farlow has had a difficult season under center and Saturday was no exception, as he completed 5-of-15 passes for 43 yards and two interceptions.
“Jeff’s a good quarterback, but he’s a young quarterback,” Bluford said of the senior. “He’s been up for a couple of years and is finally getting a chance to play quarterback. At the end of the day, is he becoming a better football player? Yes he is. Is he making mistakes? Yes he is.”
Senior running back Zac Shuller had a standout performance with 132 yards on 22 carries, including a 36-yard score in the third quarter, but the Wildcats were without senior running back/linebacker Jacob Brisbane, a starter on both offense an defense.
“It did hurt [not having Brisbane], but he’s not the reason we lost the game,” Bluford said. “There are a lot of other holes that we have to fix.”
R: 11:47 — A.J. Lewis 85-yard kickoff return (Henry Soto kick)
SI: 6:14 — Zac Shuller 36-yard run (Will McKee kick)
SI: 0:47 — Albert Waters 38-yard run (McKee kick)
R: 6:43 — Lewis 55-yard interception return (Soto kick missed)
R: 1:32 — Trejon Bolden 11-yard pass from Ismael Orozco (Lewis pass from Orozco on conversion)
Slideshow by AJ Canaria