The default platitude in the West Catholic Athletic League and Central Coast Section football discussions this season has been pretty simple.
Bellarmine is king until someone 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 — 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, who 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,” Bellarmine coach Mike Janda said. “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 (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,” St. Ignatius coach John Regalia said. “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’s 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.
“Our defense has improved over the course of the season because of our scout offense,” Regalia said.
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.”
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.
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 a quarterback that’s a tough runner, that can throw the ball, is a great leader and is a junior,” Regalia said. “I don’t think they’re versatile because of him, but he allows them to be more versatile.”
A look at this week’s prep football games involving San Francisco teams:
Washington vs. Lowell at Kezar, 7 p.m.
The yearly Battle of the Birds rivalry game has the most significant postseason implications of any game this weekend. Whichever team wins will have the inside track to lock down the third seed in the Academic Athletic Association 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.
SHC vs. Mitty at Foothill College, 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 the 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 at St. Francis, 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 at 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), who have also dominated league competition.
Balboa vs. Mission at SOTA, 2 p.m.
The Bucs’ (1-5, 1-2) will 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. — Jeremy Balan