By Jeremy Balan
The Bruce-Mahoney game between St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral is the crown jewel of any football season, but this year’s edition features one of the greatest disparities in expectations for the two teams heading into the game.
All you have to do is look at their schedules to see the teams are going in different directions.
The Wildcats have rolled since a season-opening loss to Marin Catholic, winning three straight games, including a 42-28 win on the road against Valley Christian of San Jose in their West Catholic Athletic League opener last week.
The Irish, conversely, have lost three straight after their win over Terra Nova to start the season, including a disappointing 28-0 loss to St. Francis in their league opener.
“We have some soul-searching to do,” said Sacred Heart senior Kelvin Sanders. “We need to believe in ourselves as much as our coaches do, because we know we can go far.”
Last season, the Irish had the workhorse running back in Valentino Miles, who ran for 310 yards in Sacred Heart’s 38-14 win to secure the first leg of the three-sport series, but this year, the Wildcats have the standout back.
Junior tailback Elijah Dale ran for 213 yards on 38 carries against Valley Christian and will look to repeat the Wildcats’ grinding 21-14 win over the Irish in the Division III Central Coast Section championship game last season, where fullback Dom Truoccolo pounded out 179 yards on 36 carries.
The fact that the teams played twice in one season for the first time in 119-year-old rivalry in 2012 adds little to the annual event, but does give each team that much more to pull from in preparation.
For St. Ignatius quarterback Jack Stinn, who has admitted in the past that the constantly moving and shifting Irish defense has caused him trouble, there is comfort in the familiarity, even though he struggled in each game last season, completing a combined 11-of-40 passes.
“From what I’ve seen, it’s the same defense as last year.” Stinn said. “We know, for the most part, what it looks like and what the tendencies are, but we just have to play sharp, run the ball and if they load the box, complete some passes.”
Despite their record, the Irish do have talent, specifically in dynamic junior Brett Rasso, who plays safety and running back, along with returning kicks and punts, but Sacred Heart has seemingly already lost the war of attrition.
The trickle-down effect of losing senior Matthew Hewitson for the season due to a broken collarbone has impacted the entire team.
Hewitson, a starter at wide receiver and cornerback, was injured late in Sacred Heart’s third game against Bishop O’Dowd, forcing starting quarterback Jerry Peralta to take over at corner. At the beginning of the season, Peralta wasn’t playing on defense at all, and against St. Francis, sophomore quarterback Logan White took most of the snaps behind center because of Peralta’s expanded role.
The same goes for Rasso, undoubtedly Sacred Heart’s most lethal offensive threat at running back, who sits out at times because he is too important to the Irish defense.
“When Brett is going like he was against Terra Nova or like he was against Bishop O’Dowd, great things happen,” said Sacred Heart head coach John Lee. “He is our jack of all trades and we ask him to do that because we think he can handle it. If we’re going to spell him anywhere, it’s going to be on offense. That’s the reality of it.”
One of the weaknesses for St. Ignatius in recent years, however, has been its inability to stop the run, illustrated best by Miles’ 300-yard performance last season. The Wildcats allowed Valley Christian to run for 256 yards last week, including touchdown runs of 35 and 49 yards.
“I’m not trying to have a Valentino Miles game,” Rasso said. “I’m trying to get first downs and move the sticks within our offense. If I do have a ‘Tino game, so be it, but it’s not what I’m trying to do.”
SI senior linebacker Noah Bull, who led the WCAL in tackles last season, was on the field in both games last year, but is still bothered by what happened in the first meeting.
“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Bull said. “It was upsetting, but we’re going to use that as motivation. We’re not going to forget that, even though we beat them in CCS. It’s an honor to play in this game and we don’t want that to happen again.”
For the Irish to have success, they will likely need a big game from Rasso, who presents trouble for the Wildcats due to his versatility. He can run in the Irish zone-read option attack, catch screen passes out of the backfield and even lines up in the slot as a wide receiver.
“We have to be smart and know where he is on offense and on defense,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “We know what we’ve seen and he’s one of those guys who has quickness and speed, and will also put his head down. We need to know where he is and be fundamentally sound in making tackles.”
The Wildcats may be significant favorites when the two teams hit the field on Friday night at Kezar Stadium, but the City’s signature high school football game of the season will always stand on it’s own, even in a packed week of events in San Francisco.
“It’s funny, because the City is going to be packed this weekend,” Lee said. “The one thing they’ve been screwing up is that they’re not mentioning this football game. Everyone keeps mentioning Fleet Week, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the Giants, the Niners, but they keep forgetting to mention the Sacred Heart Cathedral-St. Ignatius football game. That’s the biggest event this weekend. That’s bigger than everything.”
Mission @ Galileo, 3 p.m.
The Bears (2-2, 1-0) impressed in their Academic Athletic Association opener against Lowell and rode 364 all-purpose yards from senior quarterback Antoine Porter to cruise to a 46-13 win, but will face a fresh Galileo (1-2-1) squad that had a bye in the first week of AAA play.
Marshall @ Lowell, 3 p.m.
Both teams had disappointing losses to kick of the AAA season, but should be among the contenders for the final spot in the AAA playoffs. The Phoenix (1-4, 0-1) will look to improve on a 41-16 loss to Washington, while the Cardinals (1-3, 0-1) need to bounce back from their lopsided loss to Mission.
Riordan @ Serra (San Mateo), 7 p.m.
The Crusaders (3-1, 0-1) showed well on the road against defending league champion Bellarmine in their WCAL opener last week, but won’t get any reprieve in the Padres (4-0, 1-0), which have looked like the early league favorite.
Washington @ Lincoln, 2 p.m.
The Bruce-Mahoney isn’t the only rivalry game of the week, as the two westside rivals suit up in the 68th Bell Game. The Mustangs (3-1, 1-0) and Eagles (1-3, 1-0) both won convincingly in their AAA openers, but Washington has had possession of the Bell since 2009.