By Jeremy Balan
With the fall season still over seven months away, word has broken of a pair of early treats for City high school football fans.
Archbishop Riordan High School has scheduled Lincoln and Mission for non-league games in the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Riordan will play Lincoln on the road in Week 0 of next season, then the Mustangs will head to Phelan Avenue in 2013. The Mission game is slotted for Week 2 this season, with a date at Kezar Stadium tentatively scheduled for 2013. Riordan will play St. Mary’s of Albany in between the two City teams to round out its non-league schedule.
It is the first time since 1998, when Riordan took down Lincoln 49-0, that the Crusaders have scheduled an Academic Athletic Association opponent and could be the first time Mission and Riordan have ever played in football.
It is also the first time a San Francisco West Catholic Athletic League school has taken on a AAA opponent since St. Ignatius beat Lowell 35-8 in 2005.
“I just thought it would be a chance to play good, quality teams that aren’t far away,” said Riordan head coach Richard Sweeney, who will be entering his second season with the Crusaders. “Something that really excited me when I went to the St. Ignatius-Sacred Heart Cathedral [Central Coast Section] championship game at AT&T Park was what a great atmosphere it had. If this excites San Francisco, that would be great.”
Sweeney made sure to select two of the best AAA programs, with Mission being defending champs and Lincoln being the most successful program over the last 10 years, with four Turkey Day championships.
It also helped that Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno is a Riordan alumni and in the school’s Hall of Fame.
“I obviously love Riordan and it’s great to go back and play, but it’s about the kids. It isn’t about me,” Ferrigno said. “But I won’t tell you it doesn’t mean a lot to me.”
While playing another City school in non-league play is enough of a reason for Lincoln and Mission fans to get excited, both Ferrigno and Mission head coach Joe Albano spoke to the importance of gaining respect for the often-slighted AAA.
“If we don’t start playing the upper-echelon leagues, we’ll never be considered for a state championship,” Ferrigno said. “We want to throw our hat in there and I just want to get our program in a better place, and if we have to play Catholic schools to accomplish that, that’s what we’ll do.”
“The kids are excited, because they always see things on Riordan and the private schools,” Albano added. “We always read all the postings and how everyone thinks the AAA is a joke. Like anyone, we want respect, and this gives us an opportunity.”
Sweeney dispelled the underlying presumption that City WCAL schools have avoided playing AAA teams because the matchups provide a lose-lose situation for the Catholic schools, in which a win would be expected, but a loss would be disastrous. Instead, he focused on the excitement of his players.
“Our kids are fired up about it and that’s all I care about,” Sweeney said.