SAN MATEO — During a 45-35 loss to Pittsburg a month ago, San Mateo-Serra head coach Patrick Walsh looked down the sideline. In the midst of a loss that would drop the Padres to 1-2, Walsh’s eyes fell on sophomore backup quarterback Daylin McLemore.
“I thought, he’s too good an athlete to not be on the field,” Walsh said.
Lack of effort on defense had led to opponents scoring 106 points over the first three weeks of the season, and with senior quarterback Luke Bottari playing well — to the tune of a 97.3 NFL QB rating — Walsh wanted to find a place for one of his best athletes. He decided to train McLemore as a corner on the fly, in addition to his backup QB duties.
With McLemore locking down the opposition’s best receivers, Serra outscored its next two opponents 85-6. On Saturday, McLemore hauled in a pair of interceptions — including a pick six — as Serra thumped Archbishop Riordan 57-6 for the John Baxter Trophy, and its third straight win headed into an Oct. 12 road clash with San Jose-Valley Christian.
“It’s not too hard, because I play quarterback,” McLemore said of the extra duty at corner. “It’s just backwards. It’s been a smooth transition. I was ready to make some plays and get on the field.”
Walsh’s defense — McLemore included — was suffocating against Riordan (1-5, 0-3 in WCAL), holding the Crusaders to just 191 yards of total offense, with three sacks, six tackles for loss and nine stops for zero gain or negative yards.
“I think our overall effort is higher,” said Walsh, whose team put together six straight shutout quarters before the Crusaders’ lone score of the day with 1:25 left before halftime on Saturday. “We’re running to the ball better, we’re doing pursuit drills now. When we’re playing those types of games [against Gardena-Serra and Pittsburg], against those types of teams, it takes a while for us to find the right pieces and to put them in the right spots. Once we figure that out, it’s time to go play hard.”
That defensive stinginess — Serra (4-2, 3-0) has outscored its last three opponents 142-12 — will come in handy against a Valley Christian team that just lost a 7-3 defensive slugfest against Mountain View-St. Francis on Friday.
“Valley Christian and St. Francis are two of the top teams in the league and they proved it last night,” Walsh said. “A lot of really good players on both sides of the ball. Valley Christian, those guys play as hard as any team in our league, any team we’ve played against. It’s very difficult to win at Valley Christian, so we’ve got our hands full next week.”
Points will be at a premium in San Jose, but they weren’t on Saturday, as seven different players scored touchdowns. Malakai Rango scored twice, with another score wiped off the board due to a penalty.
Serra opened with a 40-yard screen pass to Patrick Simon on the opening drive — capped by a two-point conversion to tight end Michael Churich — and the Padres went on to score on each of their next six drives.
Rango took a screen 27 yards for a score, but that was called back due to a penalty. Two plays later, Bottari found Terence Loville uncovered up the seam for a 27-yard strike.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound McLemore then stepped in front of a pass from Adham Abdelghani at the Riordan 30 with 7:37 to go in the first quarter, setting up an eventual 18-yard touchdown run by Nate Sanchez off a direct snap from Giuseppe Benedetti three plays later.
After stopping Abdelghani on a fourth-and-1 near midfield, Bottari found Rango on a screen on the near sideline, and Rango cut back right behind his blockers, then angled away across the field for a 54-yard score with 3:43 to go.
A false start, a bad snap and a short punt gave Serra the ball back at the Riordan 26, and after a 15-yard run from fullback Watson Latu, Bottari hit Churich again — this time for a 14-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone to up the score to 36-0.
Rango scored again on the next drive, taking an end around for a 16-yard touchdown with 16.3 seconds left in the first.
Riordan — which had yet to make it across midfield — began the second quarter with a 14-yard pitch-and-catch from Crusaders sophomore backup quarterback Filip Bradzil to senior Marcus Williams. After an eight-yard screen to Lavaka Kefu, Riordan reached their own 48 — the furthest they’d advanced. That’s when McLemore leaped up and picked off Bradzil at the Serra 39. He accelerated up the far sideline for the 61-yard pick six to give the Padres a 50-0 advantage.
“I just read the quarterback’s eyes,” McLemore said. “That took me to the ball, and I just made a play after. I’m thinking the same way as him.”
Brazil guided the Crusaders to a score on the very next drive, lucking out when Jarred Quilter dropped a sure pick six.Three plays later, he handed the ball off to Williams for a six-yard score with 1:25 to go before halftime.
Quilter did get his score, punching in a nine-yard touchdown on the third play of the second half, with the running clock in effect. Quilter also had a 45-yard run in the second half, and finished with 59 rushing yards on four carries for a game high.
McLemore spent the entire second half, plus the final drive of the first half, under center, though he did not throw a pass. It’s experience he’ll need in the near future, as he’ll take over for Bottari — who finished 6-of-7 for 145 yards and four touchdowns — in 2019.
“He’s got length, athleticism, size, and he’s a humble kid,” Walsh said. “You can see when he plays quarterback, he’s got a lot of skill and a lot of talent there, too. That was the reason we wanted to get him out on the field and contribute.”