Saint Francis quarterback Reed Vettel hands it off to Opeti Fangupo, a punishing running back. The Lancers play Serra on Friday. (Courtesy Now and Forever Studios/Saint Francis Athletics)

Saint Francis quarterback Reed Vettel hands it off to Opeti Fangupo, a punishing running back. The Lancers play Serra on Friday. (Courtesy Now and Forever Studios/Saint Francis Athletics)

Serra-Saint Francis football game promises to be worth the wait

Over the last decade, the Serra-Saint Francis rivalry has transformed from one of the most lopsided in California to a thrilling, high-octane shootout that’s featured crazy comebacks and wild finishes.

The teams met 34 times between the regular season and playoffs from 1973 to 2005: Saint Francis won every time. That streak began shortly after Lynn Swann graduated from Serra and lasted throughout Barry Bonds and Tom Brady’s respective tenures.

However, since Serra eked out a 21-17 victory in 2006, the rivalry has been as close as any. Saint Francis owns a 45-15 all-time advantage in the series, but the Padres have now won six of the past 10 meetings.

“It was one-sided for 35 years, but it’s become a raucous, back-and-forth rivalry,” said Serra coach Patrick Walsh. “Just some great, epic games where 16- through 18-year old boys lay it all on the line.”

This year’s meeting was originally scheduled for Oct. 13, but with air quality concerns from the North Bay fires, the game was postponed.

In the 12 meetings played over the last 11 years, five were settled in the final seconds. Of the last three, two have been downright spectacular, and the only one that wasn’t a nailbiter was the rarest of all outcomes — a Serra win in Mountain View.

Serra has won just twice at Saint Francis in the last 45 years, a 31-13 win in 2011 and last year’s 31-17 playoff victory to end the Lancers’ season.

“Our guys are fully aware that we were 10-2 last year and we lost twice to Serra,” said Saint Francis head coach Greg Calcagno. “I wouldn’t say revenge is the word to use, but our guys know they’re a really good team.”

Should Serra (7-2, 6-0) win in Mountain View again on Friday, the Padres would have their first outright league title since 1969, when Swann was on the roster. Saint Francis (7-2, 5-1) could force a three-way tie for the league title so long as Valley Christian (7-2, 5-1) wins on Friday.

The last two regular season meetings between the Lancers and Padres were classics. In 2015, Serra led 28-10 in the second quarter and 42-30 with five minutes left before Saint Francis scored, got a stop at midfield and found the end zone again with 1:38 left to take the lead for good.

“If you look at Saint Francis, it’s just a tough, hard-nosed philosophy where if they could win 1-0, they’d be excited about that — but it’s also a testament to them that they could beat us 43-42 a few years ago,” Walsh said.

Serra came out on top in a similar meeting last year in San Mateo. Saint Francis led 23-13 before the Padres rattled off 20 straight points. The Lancers cut the score to three and had a game-tying field goal attempt blocked as time ran out, but the Serra sideline spilled onto the field in celebration while the ball was still live. The penaly set up a 26-yarder to tie the game and force overtime. Serra eventually won the game 41-40 on a two-point conversion in OT.

The intense rivalry still has the community feel that makes high school football so special. After last year’s game, players from both sides enjoyed a barbecue together as part of Serra’s Polynesian Day celebration.

“Those are families that will be spending Thanksgiving and Christmas together for the rest of their lives,” said Walsh.

Serra is in good position coming into the game after rattling off six-straight wins behind a dynamic offense. Quarterback Luke Bottari and running back Isiah Kendrick have made for a vicious backfield tandem. In last week’s 47-14 win at St. Ignatius, Kendrick ran for 221 yards and five touchdowns on just eight first-half carries. Serra’s receiving corps is deep with Shane Villaroman, Chris Park and Washington State commit Patrick Nunn.

Saint Francis boasts a powerful defense behind four-star defensive tackle Tyler Manoa as well as linebackers Junior Fehoko and Joshua Pakola. Offensively, Reed Vettel starts at quarterback and has impressive targets at receiver in a pair of juniors, three-sport athlete Maurice Wilmer and Evan Williams, both of whom also star in the secondary. As usual, the Lancers feature a deep running game, led by Darrell Page, Lucas Andrighetto and human wrecking ball Opeti Fangupo.

Neither team has a perfect record, but both have lost solely to excellent teams. Saint Francis lost to De La Salle and Valley Christian, and the Padres have been topped by just Pittsburg and St. Mary’s-Stockton.

Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. If you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track, email him at ethankassel@gmail.com.

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