Archbishop Riordan fullback Kemoeatu Kefu runs the ball in the first quarter against Serra in a game at Jefferson High School in Daly City, Calif. on Sept. 27, 2019. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

SF Preps: Riordan overwhelmed against Serra, but shows progress

Crusaders run game shut down, but defense shows spark against juggernaut Padres

DALY CITY, Calif. — As the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked off the clock on Friday night, Archbishop Riordan lineman Gabe Martin took cornerback Jarell Taylor aside on the sideline.

“It’s our fault,” he said. “We gave you bad field position.”

A raft of penalties, early offensive misfires and inexperience cost Riordan a 41-0 loss at the hands of West Catholic Athletic League power and rival Serra. The loss meant that the Baxter Trophy stayed with the Paders, but it was apparent how far the Crusaders have come from a year ago, when they trailed 43-0 after just one quarter of play.

“That’s a good team,” said head coach Mark Modeste. “Patrick [Walsh] does a really good job. They’re really well-coached. You watch them on film, you know you need to be on part to play with guys like that.”

Riordan (2-2, 0-1 in WCAL) moved the ball early thanks to offensive coordinator Chris Saunders, but the fact that the Crusaders have only been running this offense since July was apparent, as htey racked up 12 penalties on the day, including eight false starts thanks to the Padres defensive calls.

“The linebackers were calling their stem calls, and our linemen were jumping because they thought it was me,” said quarterback Azaan Ledbetter. “They weren’t consciously mimicking me, but our linemen told us that the cadence sounds similar, so they jumped. We’re going to work on it in practice.”

The Crusaders overcame two false starts on its first drive to get to the Serra 34, but could get no further. On Riordan’s second drive, Aden Jackson ripped off runs of 52 and 40 yards, but a false start and a bad snap on a field goal try on the Serra 10 foiled a scoring chance.

“It’s a combination of, this was Serra, it was the first WCAL game, but mroe than that, it’s the fact that they stem a lot,” Modeste said. “They’re very organized, a very, very well-coached team. Sometimes stemming, they went from one position to the next, as we’re cadencing. They can do it within our rhythm, and it’s tough. Kids are jumpy, and when you’re playing against a really physically gifted team, it’s a little different when you know you can not get off as quickly and still make the block.”

Riordan, though, held the Padres scoreless in the first quarter, taking away much of what they do well.

”They run a lot of different offense, more offense than we’ll see the rest of the year,” Modeste said. “More different sets, more different philosophies … from the spread to what they ran at the end, which was pure power football. Within the time that we have, you can only get to so much, but we did a good job, initially, of taking away some of the things they do really well. We did a bad job of taking away bubble and dart screen against Tamalpais, and we did a much better job tonight.”

Serra (4-0) — who averaged 50.7 points over the first three games — marched 77 yards and scored on a 32-yard run by Vince Poni to open the second, then capitalized on a fumble to score on a five-yard Daylin McLemore run. Five more penalties hobbled Riordan, and with 47 seconds to go before the half, a screen from McLemore to Nate Sanchez went for 86 yards and another score to make it 27-0.

The Padres opened the second half by trying for a big play to receiver Terence Loville — who didn’t get any targets in the first half, as Riordan effectively bracketed him— but the star wideout couldn’t haul in what would have been a 40-yard catch. On the same drive, McLemore broke up the middle for a 54-yard score, and the rout was on.

The next drive saw Crusaders all-purpose back Jackson take a helmet to the lower back, and he fell to the ground after a sickening crack. He did not return, and was diagnosed with a lower back contusion, spending the rest of the game on the sideline with a bag of ice strapped to his back.

The next drive, Serra got another big play from McLemore, who broke four tackles for a 63-yard touchdown.

Linebacker Raymond Russell had four tackles, a quarterback hurry and half a tackle for loss, unofficially. Douglas Pineda added three stops and half a TFL. Ian Ramese Tupulua had a sack, two tackles for loss and five tackles, while Levaka Kefu had three stops.

The Padres held the hard-running Crusaders to just 173 rushing yards, and Fazon Ruth — who has averaged well over 200 yards per game this season — to just 32 yards on 13 carries. He also had three catches for 32 yards. Fullback Kemoeato Kefu rushed for 30 yards on six carries. Ledbetter went 6-for-10 passing for 52 yards.

“We’re talented, and we’re getting tougher, in terms of knowing how to make plays,” Modeste said. “There were plays out there that were there to make that we didn’t make, physically. To be a playoff team, we need to make those plays. We’re in the right spots. I need them to believe in themselves.”

Ledbetter was still on junior varsity when Serra blasted an eventual 1-9 Riordan team 57-6, playing mostly second-stringers for the entirety of the second half.

“I feel good about where we at, honestly,” Ledbetter said. “The scoreboard says differently than what we did on the field. I feel this is a building point in our season. We saw what we can do against high-caliber teams. We just have to execute better, and know where we’re going. It proves that we want it. This team is a different group from last year … We know what we’re capable of. We know what we bring to the table.”

As the final seconds wound down, Taylor went up and down the sideline. “We’ve got next week,” he told his teammates.

“Remember,” Modeste told the Crusaders, “when your head hits the pillow tonight, you’re a playoff team.”

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