KEZAR STADIUM — Four weeks ago, a winless St. Ignatius called up sophomore linebacker Siaki Hunkin to take over at middle linebacker.
Head coach John Regalia didn’t hold anything back:Hunkin would take on all the responsibilities of the MIKE spot, from play calling to positioning his teammates. With veterans like Jack Hagfeldt and Mark Biggins in the back seven, it was a lot to put on the sophomore’s plate.
Hunkin has gone from learning on the job to a bona fide star. On Saturday, Hunkin wreaked havoc on Archbishop Riordan, racking up five first-half tackles, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble in a 35-0 win for the Wildcats.
“It doesn’t surprise us at all,” head coach John Regalia said of Hunkin. “We know our guys, and we’re confident in them, and their growth and development. He’s done a great job, just putting time in and getting all the little details down, which he’s very good at. It allows him to play at his potential, and get better.”
St. Ignatius has now won two of their last three games, sandwiched around a 50-14 thumping at the hands of a highly-motivated San Mateo-Serra team, and now have a very good shot at making the playoffs as an at-large bid. Biggins was the offensive star on the day, rushing seven times for 76 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while junior quarterback Zach Taylor-Smith went 7-of-10 passing for 80 yards.
Biggins got the festivities off to a rousing start, hauling in a 17-yard middle screen on third-and-8, pushing the pile down to the Crusaders 5-yard line. He finished off the drive with a five-yard touchdown plunge with 6:26 to go in the opening stanza.
St. Ignatius held firm on the next drive after a 36-yard kickoff return from Chris Whiley, with a sack from Jack Dyke and a third-and-19 stop by Hunkin forcing a punt. Biggins returned that punt 40 yards, then finished a 31-yard scoring drive with a 23-yard cut-back run through the right A-gap with 2:22 to go in the first.
After another Dyke sack forced another punt by Riordan, junior quarterback found Alfred Ugaitafa for a nine-yard scoring strike at the start of the second quarter.
St. Ignatius allowed one first down on the next drive, but Hunkin forced a fumble and then dropped Crusaders quarterback Azzan Ledbetter for a 12-yard loss, forcing another punt.
Taylor-Smith hit Marcus Sweeney in stride for a gain of 30, and sophomore Jahsai Shannon took it the final five yards on a trap block to make the score 27-0 with 9:05 to go before halftime. Shannon, who’s been the season’s breakout star, rushed for 67 yards on nine carries, alternating with senior captain Biggins.
“Those two together have been great,” Regalia said. “I think we’ve been seeing their development together on the field at the same time, offensively, and defensively, which has been awesome for us and for them. Mark is one of our core guys, and as a captain, as a three-year starter, as someone who’s got such a tremendous spirit about him and a commitment to what we do and who we are, you can’t put a value on that.”
A strip sack and 30-yard return by Riordan defensive lineman Michael Estrada gave the Crusaders a short field with 17 seconds left before the half. A pass breakup by Teddye Buchanan and another by Hagfeldt — who had a pair of breakups on the day, not including another wiped out by pass interference — on third-and-goal at the nine ended what was Riordan’s best scoring opportunity.
Hagfeldt didn’t play at all last year due to injury, but has served as an anchor in the secondary, and played big roles in each of the Wildcats’ two wins.
“Jack has been very steady and playing well for us, and he’s getting better and better,” Regalia said. “As a junior, he couldn’t suit up because he was hurt. Having him as a quarterback and a cornerback role, those are huge, and especially developing on defense, he’s been huge. I’m proud of him and how he’s developed.”
Along with Hunkin, Buchanan did yeoman’s work on defense, with his seven tackles, two of St. Ignatius’s nine tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a sack.
“I think our guys are doing a good job of settling in and reading their keys, understanding how to fit together,” Regalia said. “We’re getting better and better each week, regardless of what the scoreboard says, defensively. Our guys are really starting to settle in and feel comfortable with each other. It allows us to play aggressive and physical.”
St. Ignatius struck again to lead off the second half, with Taylor-Smith hitting Sweeney on a play-action pass wide open in the back of the end zone for an 18-yard score.
The Wildcats turned to their second string in the second half, with Cormac Gallagher rushing for 104 yards on eight carries after the break, including a 58-yard rumble following a Lance Sell interception. Gallagher didn’t quite have enough speed to beat his last defender, and St. Ignatius didn’t quite have enough juice to finish the drive, with Hagfeldt — in at quarterback — dropped for a loss on fourth-and-goal at the nine.
With one of the toughest schedules in the state, the Wildcats started the season 0-6, before beating Shamar Bey and Archbishop Mitty two weeks ago.
“Nothing is guaranteed going forward,” Regalia said. “This is a great tradition and a City football rivalry with Riordan, and we respect Riordan. They respect us. It’s always a hard, physical game. We knew that, and we wanted to execute the best we can, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that overall, tonight.”
By re-taking the Gil Haskell Trophy on Saturday, St. Ignatius moved to 2-4 in WCAL play, and if they can win a third league game — against Bellarmine Prep (2-8, 1-5 in WCAL) next week — they have an outside shot at finishing in the top half of the league. Given the fact that four of their seven losses have come to Moraga-Campolindo (North Coast Section Division II champions), Spokane (Wash.) Gonzaga Prep (Washington state 4A quarterfinalist), Mountain View-St. Francis (Open Division 2 finalist) and Serra (Division 2-AA state champions), it’s tough to see the Wildcats being left out of the playoff picture.
“If you look at our season, we’ve played a lot of great teams, we’ve challenged ourself with every opponent,” Regalia said. “Riordan’s one of those opponents. They’re very good, and they’ve got a lot of skill players, some size up front. Across the board, we’ve challenged ourselves with the people that we’ve played, and we’ve met the challenge at times, and at times we haven’t. Maybe it hasn’t shown on the scoreboard, but our guys have been so mature about keeping that perspective of where we need to get better.”