By Jeremy Balan
The Sacred Heart Cathedral football team’s matchup against Campolindo this week will likely be its toughest test of the non-league season, but will also present a clash of kindred spirits.
A year ago, Campolindo was in the same spot the Irish are in now, early in the 2012 season.
Picked to finish last in the Diablo Foothill Athletic League, the Cougars went 14-0 and beat Marin Catholic in the North Coast Section Division III championship game, before falling to Washington Union of Fresno in the D-III state championship game.
Now, the Irish have been picked last by the West Catholic Athletic League coaches in their preseason poll, but surprised many when they dispatched Terra Nova with relative ease in their opener, a team that was ranked locally and regionally.
“We always feel that we are for real,” said Sacred Heart Cathedral head coach John Lee. “People who don’t think much of us don’t know us. People base a lot of stuff at this level on what you have coming back and that makes sense, but that happens every year.”
“We watched them on film and I was surprised they were picked last,” Campolindo head coach Kevin Macy said of the Irish. “When you lose a bunch of people that’s the formula people go with. We are both in the same boat.”
Lee spotlighted stopping standout Campolindo senior quarterback Brett Stephens as a key to winning Friday night at Kezar Stadium, needing another standout performance from an Irish defense that didn’t miss a beat against Terra Nova.
Stephens, a UCLA baseball commit, threw for 2,977 yards, 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season.
According to the Contra Costa Times, Stephens threw for 166 yards on 6-of-7 passing in the Cougars’ opener against Moreau Catholic, then added 296 yards against St. Patrick-St. Vincent last week. Both were 40-plus point totals for the Campolindo offense.
Despite both blowout wins, Macy is still cautious due to a lack of running back depth.
“We’re struggling to find a running back and in some positions we’re completely empty,” Macy said. “We don’t know how much we can rely on the running game, so Brett has to be the do-all. They’re going to bring a lot of pressure and it’s going to come down to our linemen to give Brett some time.”
Lee gushed over Stephens’ quick release and compared him to former Mitty quarterback Kyle Boehm, who is now a redshirt freshman at Cal.
“The key is stopping their quarterback,” Lee said. “That guy is the real deal. We need to pressure him, but we also need to contain him. He can run the ball and that’s what makes him so deadly.”
For the Irish offense, the ball again will be snapped to senior quarterback Jerry Peralta, who threw for 244 yards on just 8-of-16 passing and also added 53 rushing yards against Terra Nova.
Over the summer, Lee said Peralta would split time with sophomore Logan White, but felt he never needed to shift Peralta to receiver against Terra Nova.
“We were going to [put White in]. That was in the cards, but fortunately Jerry was doing such a great job, we didn’t need to,” Lee said. “It’s still in the game plan and Logan will get his playing time, but [Peralta] is that fiery guy that you want in there.”
What the Irish likely won’t be able to absorb against Campolindo, however, is another second-half lull. Sacred Heart had a 27-0 lead late in the second quarter against Terra Nova, then allowed the Tigers to score 14 unanswered points to get back into the game.
“We came out well in the first half and it showed, sputtered in the third quarter and picked it up again in the fourth,” Lee said. “We have to play four quarters of football. I think we will find out where we are and what kind of caliber of players we have [on Friday].”
Tennyson (Hayward) @ Lowell, 3:30 p.m.
The Cardinals (0-1) have had two weeks to think about their opening loss to Terra Linda and will welcome the Lancers (1-0), a NCS Division III playoff team last season. Tennyson beat Albany 26-18 in their opener last week.
Marshall @ Oakland Tech, 7 p.m.
The Phoenix (0-1) looked equally good (on offense) and bad (on defense) in a 70-42 shootout loss to San Rafael in their opener, and will head over another bridge to take on the Bulldogs (1-0) in Week 1. Oakland Tech defeated Pinole Valley 45-21 in its opener and went 4-7 last season, including a 26-21 win over Balboa in non-league play.
St. Ignatius @ Terra Nova (Pacifica), 7 p.m.
We’ll get a good gauge about just how good the Wildcats (0-1) are, at least in comparison to rival Sacred Heart Cathedral, when they take on the Tigers (0-1), who fell behind early to the Irish last week and never fully recovered.
St. Mary’s (Berkeley) @ Riordan, 1 p.m.
The Crusaders (1-0) bested City foe Lincoln on the road in their opener and will head back to Phelan Avenue for their home opener on Saturday, against a team that gave them a close call in 2011. Riordan’s 37-33 victory over the Panthers (0-1) was its only win of the season, but St. Mary’s scored 26 points in the fourth quarter and nearly stunned Riordan in the East Bay. St. Mary’s had a bye last week, but opened their season in August with a 47-14 loss to Justin-Siena.
Stuart Hall vs. Mendocino @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
The Knights (1-0) looked awfully good on the road against Anderson Valley last week and will try to flip the script on another team that beat them last season. The Cardinals (0-0) dominated Stuart Hall last year in a 43-16 win.
Balboa @ Terra Linda (San Rafael), 2 p.m.
The Trojans (2-0) have already proven they can beat a Academic Athletic Association team this season (they beat Lowell 32-8 in late August) and will now welcome the Bucs (0-1) and standout senior running back Antoine Crecy.
Gonzales @ Galileo, 2 p.m.
With a less-than-encouraging tie to start the season against perennial Peninsula doormat Mills, the Lions (0-0-1) will open George White Field against the Spartans (0-0) which they beat 26-19 on the road last season.
Lincoln @ Hillsdale (San Mateo), 2 p.m.
The Mustangs (0-1) will head to the Peninsula for their second game of the season, but their record against teams to the south have not been great in recent years. Lincoln has gone 0-4 against Central Coast Section Squads since 2009 and 3-9 since 2004. The Knights (0-1) went 3-7 last season and opened their season with a loss to Cupertino last week.
Mission vs. Menlo (Atherton) @ Kezar Stadium, 2 p.m.
The Bears (1-0) and senior quarterback Antoine Porter began their season impressively with a double-digit win over Hercules last week, but will likely have their hands full with the Knights (1-0) this week. Menlo beat Mission 16-12 in Atherton last season, made the CCS Division IV playoffs and blew away Santa Cruz in its opener last week, 66-14.
El Camino (South San Francisco) @ Washington, 2 p.m.
After a bye in Week 0, the Eagles (0-0) take their fist step of the post-Karl-Finley era against the Colts (0-1), who were shut out by Menlo-Atherton (final score: 26-0) in their opener last week. New head coach Taylan Plasch had designs of installing a new offensive system over the summer and should not see a dip in talent for the perennial AAA contenders.