SF’s biggest football game comes with a twist this year

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San Francisco’s biggest high school football game returns Friday night with a twist — the underdogs are now the favorites.

The Fightin’ Irish at Sacred Heart Cathedral often find themselves playing second fiddle to arch-rival St. Ignatius, but are set to enter the 2022 Bruce-Mahoney football game in the driver’s seat.

The shift in storytelling has little to do with CHS’s three wins over the Wildcats in the past five years, and it’s almost completely unrelated to last year’s playoff run, which has saw the Fightin’ Irish capture the Central Coast Section (CCS) Division III and California Interscholastic. Federation 4-A Crowns (CIF). Instead, it stems almost exclusively from the talent CHS currently possess (3-3, 2-1 West Catholic Athletic League).

For all the great players who have put on the pads for the Bruce-Mahoney series since the trophy was first put on the line in the 1945-46 school year, few can match the accolades of Jerry Mixon Jr. , the SHC superstar in Oregon. . Mixon is ready to play linebacker at the next level, but he has the physique of a defensive end and the speed of a running back. Few linebackers, Division I-bound or not, can moonlight as wides and kick returners.

“He’s versatile,” St. Ignatius defensive coordinator Gustavo Manzanares said of Mixon. “They’ll put him in the backfield, they’ll flank him to the receiver. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put him at quarterback for a bit.

Mixon is a one-man wrecking squad and an early favorite to win the WCAL Player of the Year award, but he’s not the only one. CHS also has Arizona State-committed RL Miller, who moved from cornerback to linebacker after a growth spurt, averaging 96.2 receiving yards per game, and slot receiver Isaiah Keishk, who caught a touchdown last week after returning from a broken leg.

Sacred Heart Cathedral quarterback Aidan McGrath (11) watches the field during the first quarter of the Fightin’ Irish’ 36-20 win over Valley Christian in San Jose, Calif., on Oct. 1 2022. | Courtesy of Mona Fowler

CHS’s offense has been hit and miss at times this year, but quarterback Aidan McGrath has offered stability lately, throwing for over 230 yards in the past two games. Although their running game has been incredibly inconsistent, it can be deadly on a good day, with Benny Hatch and Jordan Solofa-Fatu opening holes for Kendric Sanders.

St. Ignatius wide receiver Gus Parker (3) prepares for a catch during the Wildcats 41-6 win over Palo Alto in San Francisco, Calif., on August 26, 2022. | Chris Victorio for The Standard

St. Ignatius (2-4, 1-2) doesn’t quite have a home run threat like Mixon, Miller or Sanders, but Gus Parker has game-changing speed, which he also showcases as as a center back for the Wildcats. baseball team. He scored three touchdowns in under 18 minutes in a season-opening win over Palo Alto, and he had five catches for 131 yards two weeks ago in a loss to St. Francis. The rest of St. Ignatius’ offensive strength is in his depth, with a wide range of slot receivers and tight fins. Monroe Barnum and Pierce St. Geme have been some of the most common contributors, but Nick Mann, Teddy Gardner, Ryan Levine and a host of others can jump in.

Who will power those receivers on Friday night remains a mystery. Senior quarterback Mac McAndrews suffered a shoulder injury in the Wildcats’ fourth game, a loss to Bellarmine, and second Soren Hummel has been filling in admirably since. McAndrews played last week against Valley Christian, but Hummel made his second straight start and earned his first career victory.

St. Ignace quarterback Soren Hummel (18) prepares to pass during the Wildcats 24-0 win over Valley Christian in San Francisco, Calif. on October 7, 2022. | Courtesy of Paul Ghiglieri/St. Ignatius Athletics

Even with the quarterback’s uncertainty, SI’s biggest concern isn’t the passing game, or anywhere on the offensive end, as second Jarious Hogan has joined Cameron Jones and Danny Jung to round out the hasty attack. For the first time since 2017, there were glaring issues with the Wildcat defense.

Giving up 49 points on Sept. 9 at St. Mary’s-Stockton is of little concern, as the Rams are one of the best teams in all of Northern California. The alarms sounded after allowing 34 points to a Bellarmine team that only had 10 points in the next two weeks, and qualms only intensified when St. Francis set the Wildcats on fire for 42 points, including 28 in the third quarter alone. Against a Valley Christian team that could only run the ball, Manzanares was able to stack the box and rely on his experienced linebacker core to keep the Warriors off the scoreboard, but SHC will surely look deep against the St. Ignatius secondary. .

“Our guys just needed to get some experience,” Wildcats head coach John Regalia said when asked about his team’s pass defense. “We played against some really good teams, and now it’s all about putting everything together collectively.”

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While the Irish are clearly full of weapons on the pitch, execution can still be an issue. It was what kept CHS off the scoreboard until the dying minutes of a Sept. 2 defeat at Palma, and penalties proved fatal last week in a frustrating 24-17 defeat at St. Francis.

“If we just execute, we’ll be fine,” first-year head coach Antoine Evans said.

Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Kezar Stadium. Tickets are currently available for $15, but that price will drop to $20 on Friday. Admission is free for children 8 and under.

St. Ignatius holds a 1-0 lead in the multi-sport series, the best of five for the vaunted trophy after winning the volleyball game Sept. 14. SI has won the trophy in three of the past four years, with the teams tied in the 2019-20 school year after the baseball game was canceled. Sacred Heart Cathedral last won the trophy at the end of the 2017-18 season.

Click here for The Standard’s preview of the rest of this week’s high school football games, including the Battle of the Birds and Serra’s trip to Riordan with the Baxter Trophy on the line.

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