By Jeremy Balan
Outside of the City’s center stage at Kezar Stadium, the presence of Friday night lights in San Francisco is a foreign idea.
That will change this week, when St. Ignatius hosts its second night game in school history against West Catholic Athletic League cross-town rival Riordan.
“So much in high school football is experience-based,” said St. Ignatius athletic director John Mulkerrins. “At SI, we’re so used to Saturday [afternoons] and that’s a great experience too, but this will accentuate the experience for players, fans and anyone who loves high school football.”
The school first played with portable lights in 2008 when it hosted Bellarmine, but with two San Francisco teams facing off, Mulkerrins is expecting a capacity crowd of around 2,500.
The game also has do-or-die playoff implications for the Wildcats (2-5-1, 0-4-1), which would likely get a Central Coast Section playoff bid with a win over Riordan (1-7, 0-5), due to bonus points gained by playing potential league champions Marin Catholic and Bishop O’Dowd.
“People are excited and the school is exited to have a Friday night game here,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “We’re at home either way and we’re approaching this game like we do every week, to be well-prepared for any opponent we play.”
An upset is certainly not out of the question for the Crusaders, which shocked the Wildcats in their 2010 meeting and have been steadily improving each week. On the road against Mitty last week, Riordan arguably played its best game of the season and hung with the Monarchs into the second half before Mitty pulled away late for a 40-21 win.
“That was the first time we looked like a decent football team, and it was against a really good football team,” said Riordan head coach Richard Sweeney. “We were going toe-to-toe and there were a lot of positives in that game, but we have to keep improving.
The biggest positive was the play of junior running back Armani McFarland, who ran for a season-high 156 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
“You gotta credit the [offensive] line. They came into their own a little bit and Armani stepped it up,” Sweeney said. “He’s just scratching the surface. He’s so talented and the sky’s the limit. He’s just not there yet.”
The St. Ignatius run defense improved significantly last week after struggling for most of the year, and stopping the run again will be a key factor for the Wildcats.
“It’s another WCAL team with a good back,” Regalia said. “That fits this league and fits with Riordan as well.”
St. Ignatius has already played under the pressure of a City rivalry on a large stage in the Bruce-Mahoney game against Sacred Heart Cathedral, but the Crusaders haven’t been in a similar atmosphere this year, something Sweeney hopes they will embrace.
“I have to pull back the dogs a little bit, because we don’t want to be too excited,” Sweeney said. “We want to play with emotion, not let the emotion play [us]. It’s a cross-town rival and a neat venue. There’s a lot of things to get excited about.”
Washington @ Galileo, 3 p.m.
The Eagles (6-2, 5-0) are alone in first place after a signature win over Mission last week, but the Lions (3-5, 1-4) should get a lift from the likely return of sophomore starting quarterback Kyle Nelson, who missed last week’s loss to Balboa due to a rib injury.
Stuart Hall vs. Rincon Valley Christian (Santa Rosa) @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
The Knights (5-3) will look to end their season on a high note after three consecutive disappointing losses. The Eagles (4-5) are also on a losing streak after a quick start, dropping their last five games by a combined score of 280-32.
Burton @ Balboa, 2 p.m.
After a slow start to the AAA season, the Bucs (3-5, 2-3) are surging, riding two consecutive wins over Lowell and Galileo to put them in the thick of the playoff race. Burton (1-5, 1-4) got its first win of the season last week over Marshall.
Mission @ Lincoln, 2 p.m.
The Bears (5-3, 4-1) will look to bounce back from a loss to first-place Washington last week, but a Lincoln win would put the Mustangs (3-5, 3-2) into a second-place tie with Mission, with a leg up in a potential tie-breaker.
Lowell vs. Marshall @ SOTA, 2 p.m.
The Cardinals (4-3, 3-2) control their own destiny and would need to win out to ensure a playoff berth, but will have to stop a Marshall (2-6, 1-4) offense that broke out for 46 points in a loss to Burton last week, behind 301 yards passing and four touchdowns from quarterback Joey Sagiao.
Sacred Heart Cathedral @ Serra (San Mateo), 2 p.m.
The Irish (5-3, 2-3) are reeling after a blowout loss on the road against Valley Christian, but won’t get a reprieve against Serra’s standout running game, although the Padres (6-2, 3-2) are coming off a loss to first-place Bellarmine last week.