By Jeremy Balan
If recent history holds form, the San Francisco football teams of the West Catholic Athletic League are in for a rude awakening in their league openers this weekend.
City high schools Riordan, Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Ignatius haven’t won a WCAL opener since 2008, when the Irish took down St. Francis and the Crusaders defeated Mitty.
Since then, the trio is 0-8-1 in WCAL openers and St. Ignatius holds the longest winless streak. The Wildcats’ last win in a league opener was in 2006 against Valley Christian of San Jose, where St. Ignatius will travel for their opener on Saturday night.
Sacred Heart will take on St. Francis at Kezar Stadium on Saturday and Riordan will travel down to San Jose to take on defending league champion Bellarmine on Friday night.
The Crusaders are 3-0 with wins over Lincoln, St. Mary’s of Berkeley and Mission, but have not faced any competition close to what they will experience against the Bells, which lost in the Division I state championship game last season.
“Once you start in the WCAL, you’re 0-0 and it’s time to get in with the big boys,” said Riordan head coach Richard Sweeney. “We have our work cut out for us. Week in and week out, everybody is good and that’s the beauty of it. It’s the best challenge for these young men to play against the best.”
The WCAL is arguably the best high school football league in Northern California and surely the toughest in the Central Coast Section, and all three City representatives had byes last week to prepare for what seemingly every coach calls “the grind” of the league schedule.
“Having a bye going into it is huge for us,” Sacred Heart coach John Lee said. “It gives us extra time to prepare and watch St. Francis a little bit longer, and to get healthy.”
The bye week unfortunately won’t help Sacred Heart senior leader Matthew Hewitson, who was ruled out for the year after breaking his collarbone in the Irish’s last non-league game against Bishop O’Dowd. Hewitson was an every-down starter at wide receiver and cornerback.
“Losing Matt is tough and I just hope all of the players in the league stay healthy,” Lee said. “I just love competing in [the WCAL]. There are eight teams and eight coaching staffs. It’s like an elite club.”
For St. Ignatius, where expectations are highest among City schools, the Valley Christian game could put it on the path to a potential league championship, but the Warriors will have revenge in the back of their minds.
Last season, the Wildcats stunned Valley Christian
in overtime in the CCS Division III semifinals before capturing the section crown against Sacred Heart a week later.
St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia expects a highly-motivated Valley Christian squad, but not for the reasons you might think.
“I expect every team to give us their best shot in every game we play this season,” Regalia said. “I expect nothing less this Saturday. We prepare to be successful and our mindset doesn’t change, but our guys love to play in our league. That excitement is not just because it’s week one or because of the opponent.”
Mission @ Lowell, 3 p.m.
The Bears (1-2) may be the defending Academic Athletic Association champions coming into the game fresh off a bye week, but no team is carrying more momentum into the first week of league play than the Cardinals (1-2), which routed Jefferson last week in a game that could have been even uglier than the 42-0 final score.
Marshall @ Washington, 3 p.m.
First-year Marshall head coach Nicholas Wilson talked the talk over the summer, when he said that the Phoenix (1-3) would win a AAA title this season, now he will have have his first opportunity to walk the walk against the Eagles (0-3), which had issues of their own in non-league play. Both teams showed signs of improvement last week, with Washington losing a relatively close game to Piedmont and Marshall winning their first game of the season on the road against Gonzales.
Stuart Hall @ Anzar (San Juan Bautista), 6 p.m.
The Knights (2-1, 1-0) impressed in their Mission Trail Athletic League debut last week, a 52-28 victory over Trinity Christian under the lights at Kezar Stadium, and will look to stay atop the league’s 8-man division on the road against the Hawks (0-2), which have yet to play a league game.
Balboa vs. Lincoln @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
One of two AAA night games under the lights at Kezar Stadium will feature teams in completely different spots heading into league play. Balboa (0-3) is reeling after a winless non-league slate capped by a disappointing loss to Jefferson, while Lincoln (2-1) put together the most impressive non-league performance of any AAA school with double-digit wins over Hillsdale and El Camino.