High school rivalries typically don’t develop between teams that are 80 miles away from one another, play in different conferences and cater to very dissimilar constituents.
Yet, there is something distinct about the budding competition between St. Ignatius (7-5) and Aptos (11-1). When these football teams square off Saturday night for the Central Coast Section Division III championship, it will mark the third time in four years that they have faced each other, with the two previous games featuring dramatic finishes in postseason play.
“This is definitely developing into a pretty interesting rivalry,” SI senior quarterback Ryan Hagfeldt said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for their players, their coaches and their program.”
Last year, SI lost a 41-35 shootout to Aptos in the Division III final, a game played at Westmont High School in Campbell, the same locale for Saturday’s title bout. In 2011, SI rallied to a 35-31 win over Aptos in the Division III quarterfinals, a victory the seventh-seeded Wildcats used as a catalyst for their sectional championship that season.
If the fourth-seeded Wildcats hope to duplicate those high-scoring results from past seasons, they’ll have to figure out a stout Mariners defense that has been lights-out this season. Aptos is surrendering just 8.1 points a game, and the second-seeded Mariners smothered Burlingame in a 29-6 victory last week in the semifinals.
“There is no question that they’re a disciplined, well-coached team,” SI coach John Regalia said. “If we’re going to have a chance to win, we’ll need to limit our mistakes and really pay lights-out in all three phases of the game.”
The Wildcats may look to duplicate the game plan that worked so successfully for the team in its 35-17 upset of top-seeded Pioneer of San Jose last week. Led by senior running back Brian Vollert, who churned up 260 yards rushing, the Wildcats established a dominant ground attack in the first half, opening up room for Hagfeldt (8-of-16, 145 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions) to attack Pioneer’s secondary.
In all likelihood, this will be SI’s final game of the season, although Aptos could conceivably advance to the Northern California Division III championship game with a win. The California Interscholastic Federation has a selection committee that chooses which sectional champions advance to regional and state bowl games. Campolindo of Moraga and Sutter are both undefeated at 13-0, and in the drivers’ seat for the Division III Northern California title slot.
Regardless of that situation, Regalia said the Wildcats’ seniors have made this season a memorable one.
“I’d say this four weeks from now or four weeks ago — I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys,” Regalia said. “They’ve put in a tremendous amount of work since January, and they can say that the sacrifices that they’ve made have helped improve this program. They’re great players and great people.”