By Jeremy Balan
If momentum can be carried through the nearly nine-month-long football offseason, it would be hard to find a team that has more of it than St. Ignatius Prep.
The Wildcats capped a whirlwind Central Coast Section playoff run with a win over eternal rival Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Division III championship game in front of an estimated 12,000 fans at AT&T Park.
St. Ignatius eliminated a 14-7 halftime deficit to beat the Irish 21-14, but at that point, comebacks were old hat. In prior playoff games on the road against Aptos and Valley Christian, the Wildcats needed last-minute scores to prevail.
“To have three competitive games like that, that are so thrilling toward the end — they were just amazing,” said senior quarterback Jack Stinn. “We saw last year, the games we would lose in the final two minutes, we were beginning to win.”
Now, with the most talent returning of any West Catholic Athletic League team within San Francisco’s borders, the Wildcats are considered contenders in one of the best leagues in the state. The WCAL coaches even voted St. Ignatius third in their preseason poll, only behind powerhouses Bellarmine and Serra.
“Our program has had some success,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “Now it’s how we deal with that success and how we build on it.”
The face of the St. Ignatius offense will again be senior quarterback Stinn, who led the almost entirely run-first league in passing yardage last season.
Along with shifty senior running back Albert Waters, the leading returning rusher from last season, and a pair of big targets at wide receiver (seniors Andrew Vollert and Matt Emery are both around 6-foot-5), scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the Wildcats in 2012.
The most significant point of concern last season, however, was the St. Ignatius defense, specifically its inability to stop the run in a league that does it better than any other.
Against league opponents with elite running games last season, (Serra, Valley Christian, St. Francis, Sacred Heart Cathedral and Bellarmine) the Wildcats allowed over 37 points per game.
“The WCAL has always been [a running league], and last year was a great example of it,” Regalia said. “Every team has an excellent run scheme and a very good running back, and they’re well coached. That’s something that we have to be ready for.”
Leading the defensive charge will be senior Noah Bull, who led the WCAL in tackles last season. Waters will also help out at cornerback, along with his duties at running back.
“Our defense, as a whole, needs to stop the run,” Bull said. “We don’t know how far we can go, but we’re not going to put a lid on it. Every day we’re going to remind ourselves to keep working and getting better.”
With so many question marks in the WCAL, which will still be the strongest league in the CCS, the door may be open for St. Ignatius to win its first outright league football title in school history (the Wildcats split a title with Serra in 2006).
If they can win a WCAL title — and that is a big if — along with an undefeated run in a tough non-league slate that includes a stout Marin Catholic squad, the Wildcats could also be a part of another first. They could be a part of the inaugural regional bowl games, which are now the only route to the state championships.
“We have the potential do that, but potential doesn’t always work out the way you want it to,” Stinn said.
2012 Schedule – WCAL games in bold
Week 0: Sat. 9/1 – @ Marin Catholic (Kentfield), 1 p.m.
Week 1: Fri. 9/7 – @ Terra Nova (Pacifica), 7 p.m.
Week 2: Sat. 9/15 – vs. Menlo-Atherton (Atherton), 1 p.m.
Week 3: (Bye)
Week 4: Sat. 9/29 – @ Valley Christian (San Jose), 7 p.m.
Week 5: Fri. 10/5 – vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Week 6: Fri. 10/12 – @ St. Francis (Mountain View), 7:30 p.m.
Week 7: Sat. 10/20 – @ Riordan, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sat. 10/27 – vs. Bellarmine (San Jose), 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sat. 11/3 – @ Serra (San Mateo), 2 p.m.
Week 10: Sat. 11/10 – vs. Mitty (San Jose), 1 p.m.