By Jeremy Balan
After a crushing loss to Bellarmine to open up West Catholic Athletic League play, it’s almost a blessing that Sacred Heart Cathedral will be playing rival Archbishop Riordan on Saturday.
The Irish won’t have a letdown week when the Stanfel Cup is at stake.
“We’re fortunate because our next game is Riordan,” Sacred Heart coach John Lee said. “It’s a city school. It’s a rival school. Our guys know what we’re playing for.”
Sacred Heart (3-1, 0-1) has won five of the past six meetings and three in a row in the annual rivalry game, but the Crusaders (1-3, 0-1) proved just how much damage they can do in their homecoming game, stunning St. Ignatius last season for their only win.
“We’re not taking anyone lightly,” Lee said. “That was their homecoming game last year and we’re it this year.”
This year’s Riordan squad is also considerably improved, with close losses to undefeated Sacred Heart Prep and Dougherty Valley, who both pounded the Crusaders in 2010.
Still, Riordan dropped its WCAL opener last week 49-20 on the road against Valley Christian.
“We’re not where we need to be to win games in this league,” Riordan coach Richard Sweeney said. “We need to improve fundamentally and we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Crusaders’ toughest task on defense will be stopping Sacred Heart standout running back Valentino Miles, who ran for 296 yards and five touchdowns in the Irish’s 55-6 rout of Riordan last season.
“He’s an outstanding back, but [Jack] Harrington, their quarterback, operates the offense well and they have a couple of good wide receivers,” Sweeney said. “Coach Lee has those guys ready.”
For Sacred Heart’s defense, which has been the strength of the team in all four games, limiting Riordan quarterback Zach Masoli is the main focus.
The sophomore has had peaks and valleys, but has thrown for 635 yards and six touchdowns in four games, and has a score rushing.
“We need to keep Mr. Masoli contained,” Lee said. “He’s an athlete and we need to keep him in the pocket, put pressure on him and force him to make young quarterback mistakes.”
Homecoming was the highlight for the Crusaders in 2010, and with new life in the school and the athletic program, the Riordan faithful could be out in force Saturday.
“It’s exciting to be a part of it and our players understand just how much the game means,” Sweeney said. “In terms of homecoming, our part is to win the game. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
Lowell @ Burton, 3 p.m.
The Cardinals (1-2, 0-1) dropped their AAA opener to rival Washington last week, and will look to avenge last season’s loss to Burton (0-2, 0-1), which also lost its opener, to Galileo, last week.
Lincoln @ Galileo, 3 p.m.
The Mustangs (1-3, 1-0) shook up the early AAA slate with a 14-6 win over Balboa last week, but Galileo (3-1, 1-0) has been impressive in non-league play and easily dispatched Burton last week.
Stuart Hall vs. Crystal Springs Uplands (Hillsborough) @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
The Knights (5-0) will take on their third unbeaten squad in a row, but so far, it hasn’t fazed them. The Knights are making a considerable push for an undefeated season, but the Gryphons (3-0) could be their toughest test yet. Crystal Springs beat Stuart Hall twice in 2010, by scores of 52-2 and 30-6, and scored 76 points on Cornerstone Christian last week.
Serra (San Mateo) @ St. Ignatius, 1 p.m.
The Wildcats (2-1-1) sent a message to the WCAL by tying Mitty on the road last week, but will get no reprieve from undefeated Serra (4-0, 1-0), which took down St. Francis 31-13 last week.
Mission @ Balboa, 2 p.m.
Mission (2-2, 1-0) looked every bit like the AAA favorite last week in a 46-0 trouncing of Marshall, while 2010 finalist Balboa (1-3, 0-1) took a step back with an opening loss to Lincoln.
Marshall vs. Washington @ SOTA, 2 p.m.
After a lopsided loss to Mission last week, it’s hard to see the the Phoenix (0-4, 0-1) challenging defending champ Washington (2-2, 1-0), which handled Lowell last week.