By Jeremy Balan
For both Lowell and Washington, non-league play provided extreme highs and lows, making the first rivalry game of the season that much more intriguing.
The two teams meet annually for the Battle of the Birds, in the only Academic Athletic Association night game of the season. This year’s meeting will open the AAA season at Kezar Stadium on Friday night.
“It’s exciting every year because of the lights, because of the crowd, and it’s two of the biggest high schools in San Francisco getting together and playing,” said Lowell head coach Danny Chan. “With Washington being the champions, that just makes it better. They’re the team to beat.”
The City’s only Friday night spotlight at Kezar would be a draw for any two teams, but the Washington-Lowell series has been balanced in recent years. The teams have split their past eight meetings, with Washington taking last season’s game 41-20.
“Everyone comes to see us play, including all the other [AAA] teams,” said Washington head coach Karl Finley. “It’s been even and we haven’t changed very much, so we’re going into the game knowing what each other is going to do.”
The two teams also share plenty of common traits.
Both operate in run-heavy offenses and usually don’t throw the ball more than a handful of times per game, Lowell (1-1) in its packed-in double-wing option offense and Washington (1-2) in a slightly more straight-ahead attack.
As much as each team runs, both have struggled with ball security in non-league play. Washington has been plagued with chronic fumbling problems in all three non-league games and Lowell put the ball on the ground nine times in their loss to Redwood two weeks ago.
Without the turnovers and mistakes, Washington could very well be 3-0 heading into the AAA season, with close losses to Irvington and El Camino.
“It’s the little things that make a big difference,” Finley said. “It’s been a positive preseason. We’ve been in every game, but it’s even harder for the kids to take because it’s what we didn’t do in those close games.”
Chan admits that the Cardinals can’t compete with the Eagles’ athleticism, but they’ll look to control the tempo and possession in the double wing.
“We can’t be dazzled by Washington’s athleticism. We need to just stick to our game and grind it out,” Chan said. “It has to be work to play us. We’re going to be out-athleted, and we’re not going to pretend anymore.”
The Eagles’ athleticism will be on display again this season, with another pair of standout running backs in Lajarie Mabrey and Jamie McHenry. The duo has provided most of the offense for the Eagles this season, taking the pressure of first-year starting quarterback Simon Ma.
“We just have to get a little bit better every day and every week,” Finley said. “If we decrease our mental errors, cut down on costly penalties, and decrease turnovers, the results will be there.”
Burton @ Galileo, 3 p.m.
The Pumas (0-1) had to cancel the final two games of their non-league season due to limited numbers, but should be in game shape for their AAA opener against Galileo (2-1). The Lions pounded Burton in the opener last season, 49-6.
St. Ignatius @ Mitty (San Jose) @ Foothill College (Los Altos Hills), 7 p.m.
The Wildcats (2-1) open up the brutal West Catholic Athletic League season on the road against a Mitty (2-1) team that many thought would be down in 2011.
After dropping a game to San Ramon Valley, the Monarchs stunned state champ Palo Alto to wrap up their non-league schedule.
Balboa @ Lincoln, 2 p.m.
After two encouraging games against Kennedy and Oakland Tech, the Bucs (1-2) suffered a 63-14 blowout loss on the road to Analy to end their non-league slate.
Despite a winless record, the Mustangs (0-3) have showed signs of improvement in each of their non-league games, capped by a close 15-6 loss to El Camino.
Marshall vs. Mission @ SOTA, 2 p.m.
After canceling their final non-league game against McClymonds, the Phoenix (1-2) will get a significant test from the Bears (1-2), which figure to be one of the AAA favorites.
Sacred Heart Cathedral vs. Bellarmine (San Jose) @ Kezar Stadium, 2 p.m.
The Irish (3-0) may be undefeated, but they haven’t seen anything close to a team like Bellarmine yet this year.
The Bells (2-1) are one of the best teams in the state and their only loss came in overtime to national power De La Salle in Week 0. After the loss, Bellarmine has outscored opponents 92-15.
Stuart Hall vs. Point Arena @ Treasure Island, 3 p.m.
The Knights (4-0) will take on an unbeaten team for the second week in a row, but will do so in their first home game of the year.
Stuart Hall has outscored opponents 170-68, but Point Arena (3-0) has been equally impressive, scoring 164 points in just three games.
Riordan @ Valley Christian (San Jose), 7 p.m.
The Crusaders (1-2) will be big underdogs on the road, but will get a considerable reprieve with the Warriors (1-2) still missing standout running back Byron Marshall.