By Jeremy Balan
As much attention as the West Catholic Athletic League clash between Bellarmine and Serra is getting this week, just 20 miles south of San Mateo there is another meeting of unbeaten WCAL squads that is flying under the radar.
St. Ignatius travels down to Mountain View to take on St. Francis on Friday night, and as impressive as the Wildcats have been this season, it’s actually St. Francis that has been the biggest surprise.
Picked to finished sixth in the WCAL preseason coaches poll, the Lancers had two losses in non-league play, but started the league season with a 28-0 win over Sacred Heart Cathedral and edged Valley Christian 28-27 last week.
“Everybody is always going to have an opinion,” said St. Francis head coach Nick Navarro. “The best part is that we get to play the games. We have the opportunity to show everybody what we’re made of.”
On the field, St. Francis has owned the Wildcats in recent years, winning their last five meetings, including a heart-wrenching 38-35 result last season.
The Wildcats led 35-31 with under a minute left, but the Lancers converted a 27-yard, fourth-and-17 touchdown pass with 24 seconds left to win the game.
“We try not to look back at the past or think about how many games [in a row] we’ve lost,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “We don’t want to treat any week differently. We’re playing another very good opponent on the road and we have to prepare for that no matter what the standings say.”
The one trend during Regalia’s tenure (he’s in his second full season after taking over for Steve Bluford during the 2010 campaign), at least on offense, is that there have been no trends in the St. Ignatius game plan.
The Wildcats have been as versatile as they have been unpredictable, with the capability of dialing up 40-plus passes for senior quarterback Jack Stinn or 50-plus carries for the running game.
Last week against City rival Sacred Heart, St. Ignatius again cued up the running game, but did so with unexpected personnel.
Junior running back Elijah Dale had his second straight standout effort with 192 yards on 27 carries, but senior Albert Waters, who didn’t have a single carry in their first WCAL win over Valley Christian, added 129 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
“It just depends on what we need our guys to do that week, what our depth is and what our health is,” Regalia said. “We have guys that can play positions and that’s a good thing to have.”
The Lancers have also shifted offensive strategy considerably this season.
After leaning heavily on standout running back Durell Crooks last season (the powerful runner rushed for 1,447 yards and 14 touchdowns), the Lancers have almost entirely flipped the script.
No St. Francis running back has more than 166 yards this season and the Lancers average just 92 rushing yards per game as a team, while senior quarterback Mike Lauck has nearly reached last year’s passing totals in just five games.
Lauck has thrown for 1,011 yards and has 12 touchdowns through the air, including a 322-yard, four-touchdown performance against Sacred Heart.
Throw in Stinn, who leads the WCAL with 1,101 yards through the air this season, and the two best passing quarterbacks in the league may both be on the field on Friday night.
“We’re the two teams that throw the ball the most and I really like our guy. He’s one heck of a quarterback,” Navarro said. “Last year when we played SI, [Stinn] was very impressive. They’re both very good quarterbacks and it will be interesting to see them go toe to toe.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral vs. Valley Christian (San Jose) @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Four WCAL schools are undefeated in league play, but that means four are also winless, including the Irish (1-4, 0-2) and the Warriors (2-3, 0-2). Valley Christian has been a little closer to victory, with a one-point loss to St. Francis last week, while Sacred Heart has lost both of its league games by double digits.
Mitty (San Jose) @ Riordan, 1 p.m.
The Crusaders (3-2, 0-2) and the Monarchs (3-2, 0-2) are both winless in WCAL play, but Mitty has had some tough luck. Mitty’s two losses have both been by single digits to league powers Bellarmine and Serra, while Riordan lost to the same two teams by significantly larger margins.
Stuart Hall @ Alma Heights (Pacifica), 1 p.m.
The Knights (3-1, 2-0) had an unexpected bye last week when Rincon Valley Christian backed out of their scheduled non-league matchup, but will jump back into Mission Trail Athletic League play against the Eagles (1-3, 0-1), which got their first win of the season last week against El Sobrante Christian.
Washington @ Balboa, 2 p.m.
While Mission and Lincoln appear to be running away with the top two playoff spots in the Academic Athletic Association, the final two postseason slots appear to be up for grabs. The Eagles (1-4, 1-1) and Bucs (0-4, 0-1) haven’t impressed in early AAA play, but are still contenders for those last two spots.
Galileo @ Lincoln, 2 p.m.
The Lions (1-3-1, 0-1) were in a position to upset Mission last week and only trailed 25-20 early in the fourth quarter before eventually falling 39-20, and won’t get a reprieve against the Mustangs (4-1, 2-0), which have outscored opponents 82-14 in their first two AAA games.
Marshall vs. Mission @ SOTA, 2 p.m.
The biggest mismatch of the weekend on paper, the Bears (3-2, 2-0) have won their first two AAA games by an average of 26 points, while the Phoenix (1-5, 0-2) have been outscored 104-28 in their first two league games.