By Jeremy Balan
The players may change on the field year to year, but the storyline stays the same.
It’s the Bruce-Mahoney game — enough said.
This year’s edition of the 118-year-old rivalry is scheduled for Friday night at Kezar Stadium and is not short on subplots, with Sacred Heart Cathedral needing only one more win for a Central Coast Section playoff berth and St. Ignatius also seeking crucial CCS points.
“Not only is it a huge rivalry and we’ve all been waiting for it for years, but it’s huge playoff-wise and could change the directions of our seasons,” said Sacred Heart senior linebacker John Morello. “Words can’t really describe how much we’ve been waiting for this.”
Each player seems to have a personal story in relation to the game that dates back to the 1800s.
“My dad played in the game years ago and he still talks about it today,” said St. Ignatius senior running back/linebacker Kerry Crowley. “I’ve grown up with it and I definitely know the significance of the game.”
Each team has had its share of opportunities to win games in the West Catholic Athletic League this season, but most have resulted in disappointment.
“Right now we’re still looking forward to our first league win and we’re excited about that opportunity,” Crowley said. “We know the game is important, but we’re looking at this like any other game. We have to go out and execute and if we’re going to be where we want to be at the end of the season, this is a critical week.”
The success of the Irish could be determined by their high-pressure defense, led by Morello, a vocal and emotional leader.
“The key [to this game] is domination by our defense,” said Sacred Heart head coach John Lee. “We need our defense coming out like banshees and our offense needs to hold our end of the bargain. If our defense can dominate, we’re going to have a lot of fun Friday night.”
The Irish will look to put pressure on St. Ignatius junior quarterback Jack Stinn, who will be playing in his first game on the biggest stage in San Francisco high school football. Stinn has passed for 1,186 yards on the season with five TDs and four picks.
“[Sacred Heart’s defense] is kind of confusing, but once you figure it out, it’s just like any other defense,” Stinn said. “Especially out of shotgun, I know they’re going to bring [the pressure]. I have to hit the hot route and let our athletes get all the yards.”
Stinn, Crowley and shifty junior running back Albert Waters will all be factors on offense for the Wildcats, but their most glaring issue in recent weeks has been run defense, and Sacred Heart has standout running back Valentino Miles.
Miles has run for 710 yards on 94 carries this season and has also been one of the most targeted receivers for senior quarterback Jack Harrington.
“The biggest thing for us defensively is being fundamentally sound, to be able to tackle and to be able to pursue,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “It breaks down to that.”
The Wildcats have a tradition of shutting down Sacred Heart backs, but Miles had 120 yards on 13 carries in last season’s game before leaving early in the third quarter with a leg injury.
“The way their defense is designed, they do an excellent job with our backs,” Lee said. “They did a good job with Miles last year, [Desarte] Yarnway a few years back, and we’ve got to get past that.”
The game plans and player matchups will certainly factor into the result, but the biggest hurdle for both teams can be the stage and the pressure that comes with it — something Lee knows all too well.
The Irish have only won one Bruce-Mahoney game in Lee’s seven-year tenure, and came into last season’s 31-21 loss as favorites.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, this is the SI game, and we know it’s a big game, but we can’t worry about the fans, or the school or the alumni,” Lee said. “We need to worry about ourselves and not get psyched out. In the past, we’ve had kids go robotic and we don’t do that for Mitty, we don’t do that for Serra. It’s just another important game.”
Still, it will be the players that decide the game, and they’re very familiar with each other, as cross-town rivals should be.
“I know the running backs, I know the offensive linemen, I know the quarterback, I know all those guys,” Morello said. “We grew up with those guys and hang out with them on the weekends, but we’re not friends this week.”
Balboa @ Lowell, 3 p.m.
The two teams are at entirely different stages in comparison to last season, when Lowell was winless at this point and Balboa was in the thick of a playoff race.
This season, the Cardinals (3-2, 2-1) are tied for third place and the Bucs (1-5, 0-3) are struggling mightily and coming off a loss to Marshall.
Galileo vs. Mission @ Kezar Stadium, 3 p.m.
If the Lions (3-3, 1-2) want to keep their slim playoffs hopes alive, they will have to upset the first-place Bears (4-2, 3-0) and their dominant defense.
Mission has yet to allow a single point in AAA play and has only allowed 18 points in six games.
Stuart Hall vs. Mendocino @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
With a bye last week, the Knights (5-1) had to stew over their first loss of the season, but will be favored again against the Cardinals (2-3).
Serra (San Mateo) @ Riordan, 1 p.m.
The Crusaders’ (1-5, 0-3) daunting trek through the WCAL season continues with another power rushing team in Serra (5-1, 2-1), which received its first loss against Mitty last week.
Washington @ Burton, 2 p.m.
The defending AAA champs will have their first true AAA road game of the season and will be considerable favorites over an undermanned Burton (0-4, 0-3) squad.
Washington (4-2, 3-0) has outscored AAA opponents 93-28 this season.
Marshall @ Lincoln, 2 p.m.
The Phoenix (2-3, 1-1) stunned Balboa last week to stay alive in the AAA playoff race and a win over Lincoln (2-4, 2-1) would put them into at least a tie for the final postseason spot.