By Jeremy Balan
The default platitude in the West Catholic Athletic League and Central Coast Section football discussions this season has been pretty simple.
Bellarmine remains the king until someone knocks it off.
For the first time in a long time — maybe the first time since it left the Academic Athletic Association in
1968 1967 — St. Ignatius has an opportunity to take the crown as the top team in the WCAL and in the CCS when the Wildcats host Bellarmine on Saturday.
Both teams come into the game undefeated in WCAL play, but the Bells, which won the league title last season, claimed the CCS Open Division championship and went on to lose to Santa Margarita in the Division I state title game, haven’t lost a league game since Nov. 5, 2010, and have a five-year win streak against St. Ignatius.
“Both teams are 4-0 in league,” said Bellarmine head coach Mike Janda. “The winner of this ballgame has the inside track to win the championship, so it’s tremendously important to both teams.”
That inside track, for St. Ignatius, would be for its first outright WCAL football title
in school history since 1967 (the Wildcats split a league title with Serra in 2006). The Wildcats would still have to get past Serra and Mitty in the final two games of the season, but the first step is Bellarmine.
“We’re not looking at winning out. Honestly, we’re just looking at this week,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “What our guys are good at is focusing on what is at hand.”
The Wildcats haven’t shown much difficulty scoring this season, but it has been the recent defensive resurgence that has been most noticeable in recent weeks. St. Ignatius held St. Francis and Riordan to a combined 234 yards of total offense in the past two weeks, and even though neither team can be classified as an offensive powerhouse, it is a stark departure from last year’s stop unit that struggled mightily throughout the WCAL season.
Regalia credited the Wildcats’ scout offense, which shifts every week to imitate their upcoming opponent, for the defensive improvements.
“Our defense has improved over the course of the season because of our scout offense,” Regalia said. “When our defense is showing good things on the field, our scout offense guys take pride in that and they should.”
In SI’s 54-14 loss to Bellarmine last season, the Wildcats allowed 421 yards rushing to the Bells’ double-wing offense.
“It’s assignment football,” Regalia said of defending against the double-wing. “It’s being disciplined, pursuing the football and being excellent tacklers. We have to match the physicality of that with our defense.”
Last season, the Bells’ passing game was essentially a wrinkle and they only threw three times against St. Ignatius, but this season, they have arguably the best dual-threat quarterback in the league.
Junior quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels, listed at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, is in his first varsity season and has been as effective in the passing game as he has been in directing the double-wing.
“He’s a first-year starter, so he’s still learning and there has been some excellent improvement every week,” Janda said. “We have to pass, because certain defenses take certain things away. You have to have something else to go to.”
Listed as a pro-style quarterback by Rivals.com, the junior has only played seven varsity games, but already verbally committed to play college football at Vanderbilt.
“They have their double-wing stuff and their pro-style stuff,” Regalia said. “They have a quarterback that’s a tough runner, that can throw the ball, is a great leader and is a junior. I don’t think they’re versatile because of him, but he allows them to be more versatile.”
Even though the Wildcats technically were the home team in the Bruce-Mahoney game against Sacred Heart Cathedral at Kezar Stadium earlier in the season, this week also represents the unofficial WCAL home opener for St. Ignatius. The Wildcats haven’t played on their home field in the Sunset since a 31-7 non-league win over Menlo-Atherton on Sept. 15.
“There’s definitely going to be the comforts of home, but once the whistle blows, we’re still playing football between the lines,” Regalia said. “That doesn’t change.”
Galileo vs. Marshall @ SOTA, 2 p.m.
The Phoenix (1-7, 0-4)
have been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, but need to win out and get help to keep slim postseason hopes alive and can play spoiler to the Lions (1-5-1, 0-3), which also still have a distant chance to sneak into the Academic Athletic Association playoffs.
Lowell vs. Washington @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
The yearly Battle of the Birds rivalry game has the most significant postseason implications of any matchup this weekend. Whichever team wins will have the inside track to lock down the third seed in the AAA playoffs. The Cardinals (3-3, 2-1) are currently in third place, while the Eagles (2-5, 2-2) sit in fourth, with only league-undefeated Mission remaining on their schedule.
Sacred Heart Cathedral vs. Mitty (San Jose) @ Foothill College (Los Altos Hills), 7 p.m.
The Irish (1-6, 0-4) will look to capture their first WCAL win of the season and end a startling trend against the Monarchs (5-2, 2-2). With a limited roster, Sacred Heart has been losing a war of attrition. In first halves this season, the Irish have been competitive, only being outscored 77-75, but in second halves, they have been outscored by a staggering margin of 124-17.
Riordan @ St. Francis (Mountain View), 7:30 p.m.
The Crusaders’ (3-4, 0-4) already-uphill battle to capture their first WCAL win of the season took a hit when standout junior quarterback Zach Masoli was ruled out of this week’s game with a hand injury. Junior Chris Hall, the Crusaders’ top wide receiver, will be likely be Masoli’s replacement under center against the Lancers (3-4, 2-2).
Stuart Hall vs. Woodside Priory (Portola Valley) @ Treasure Island, 1 p.m.
The Knights (4-1, 3-0) have had plenty of success during their first season in the Mission Trail Athletic League’s 8-Man Division, averaging over 50 points per game, but will get their toughest test against the Panthers (5-0, 3-0), which have also dominated league competition.
Balboa vs. Mission @ SOTA, 2 p.m.
The Bucs’ (1-5, 1-2) will still have an outside shot for a AAA playoff spot if they lose to the Bears (4-2, 3-0), but an upset over a rested Mission squad coming off a bye last week, would make things significantly easier.
Woodland Poly @ Lincoln, 2 p.m. (CANCELED)
The Mustangs improve to 7-1 with their second straight forfeit win. The Buffaloes (0-4) are in their first year of varsity competition and informed Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno last week that they wouldn’t be able to field a full team.