Last year, Danny Ryan was playing basketball and lacrosse. Hauling in passes on the gridiron was nowhere near the radar for the then-St. Ignatius junior.
Just two weeks ago, it was unlikely that Sacred Heart Cathedral sophomore linebacker Bruce Uperesa would be on the field at all this season for the Fightin’ Irish, having suffered fractures in his orbital bone from a boating accident a week before SHC’s season opener.
Yet when their teams take the field on Friday night at Kezar Stadium for the Bruce-Mahoney Game, they’ll be among the key contributors as the two longtime San Francisco rivals meet. Sacred Heart Cathedral has taken the past two meetings, 21-14 in 2017 and 26-21 last year, marking back-to-back wins in the rivalry for the Irish for the first time since 1987 and ’88. Friday presents a chance for the Irish to extend their streak over the Wildcats to three games for the first time since 1949 to 1951.
It’s only fitting that Ryan, who would be crowned “Mr. St. Ignatius” if such an award existed, will have a say in trying to put an end to that run.
“He’s a very special kid and a special athlete,” head coach John Regalia said of his team’s top receiver. “He has a presence around campus. He’s a very dynamic person with a strong sense of maturity and a sense of who he is that allows him to be himself. He has a way to impact the campus and we’re seeing that show itself on the football field.”
Ryan has quickly become one of quarterback Teddye Buchanan’s top targets, hauling in 22 passes for 390 yards and four touchdowns across SI’s first three games.
Uperesa will be among the players looking to slow Ryan down, providing a much-needed shot in the arm for a Fightin’ Irish team that’s gotten off to strong starts in three straight games but has struggled in the second half. Of the 114 points that Sacred Heart Cathedral (0-3) has allowed on the season, 76 have come in the third and fourth quarters.
“We’ve been making big plays, but then we just shoot ourselves in the foot,” head coach Barry McLaughlin said. “It’s very similar to what (St. Ignatius) had last year. Breaking down film, I saw a really good team and mistakes would just pop up. There’s a very good team there, it’s just putting it together for four quarters.”
The Wildcats started 0-6 last year, culminating with the loss to the Irish, before rattling off three wins in their final four games to reach the playoffs. That momentum has carried into this season, where they’ve won two of their first three games, all of which were played against teams that defeated them last year.
Serra (3-0) @ Riordan (2-1), Friday, 7 p.m. at Jefferson HS: Since a 66-45 Riordan win in 2015, the Baxter Trophy has belonged to the Padres each of the last three years, with all three games ending with a running clock. Serra has won those meetings by a combined score of 151 to 20, but a revitalized Crusader program under first-year head coach Mark Modeste is looking to change that tune. Riordan running back Fazon Ruth is off to a remarkable start this year, leading the Central Coast Section with 707 rushing yards despite many of his peers having a game in hand, while Padres QB Daylin McLemore ranks fourth in the section in passing yards.
California School for the Deaf (2-2) @ Washington (0-2), Friday, 3:30 p.m.: Washington will take the field Friday afternoon against another team called the Eagles in a battle of two programs that have received national recognition for different reasons. CSD was televised on ESPN in 2016 as part of a feature on the program’s remarkable achievements, while Washington has been recognized for having breathtaking views from its stadium. Having scored just six points in two games, Washington will need to bring it on defense Friday afternoon, which means trying to stop CSD running back Calel Aramboles.
El Camino (0-4) @ Lincoln (1-1), Saturday, 2 p.m.: The Mustangs will be coming off a loss for the first time in two years, and they’ll be doing so against a team that they’ve beaten in four consecutive meetings. El Camino has yet to win a game this year, falling 56-0 last week to a Half Moon Bay team that has established itself as one of the best on the Peninsula.
Balboa (0-3) @ Cardinal Newman (3-1), Friday, 7 p.m.: The Buccaneers had loaded their plate with a grueling non-conference schedule that was going to be a challenge even before running back AJ Velasquez suffered a season-ending knee injury. Friday will be arguably the toughest of those tests as they travel to Santa Rosa to face a Cardinals program that is a perennial North Coast Section title contender.