SF Preps Weekend Preview: Academic Athletic Association semifinals kick off busy football weekend

With cancelations, postponements and finally, some semblance of a schedule, Bay Area football has dealt with some massive upheaval since the Camp fire began on Wednesday of last week.

First to move were the mid-week San Francisco Section season finales, and then came the Central Coast Section and North Coast Section postseason moves. Some teams — like Sacred Heart Cathedral — had their games moved, either in time or in venue, three times. In the case of the Irish, they were 20 minutes away from Morgan Hill for their first-round game against Live Oak on Monday afternoon when their game was moved to Friday at 7 p.m.

The CIF, as of Tuesday afternoon, has moved its state football title games back one week, to Dec. 4-7, to accommodate changes.

The Central Coast Section has also developed a contingency should Friday games not be able to be played due to air quality. There would be triple-headers at several neutral sites on Saturday. We’ve provided the currently-scheduled dates, and in parentheses, included the contingency site. The contingency sites are further to the south, where air quality has been consistently good since the Camp fire began.

With all that in mind, let’s look at the games scheduled to happen involving City teams, as of print time.

Academic Athletic Association

Should the AAA games have to be moved, they would be played Friday at the same times and locations.

Quarterfinal 1: #3 Mission (5-4) @ #2 Galileo (7-2), Thursday at 2 p.m.: The Bears dropped their first game of the season due to a forfeit — not enough players had their proper medical check-ups — and then took a 20-6 beating at the hands of Oakland Tech, but have won five of their last seven games. Mission’s only two losses in that stretch? To the top two teams in the league: Galileo and Lincoln.

The last time these two teams met was an entertaining back-and-forth affair at Galileo, where the Lions came out with a 42-36 win

First-year head coach Tobias Whitley has a pair of dynamic playmakers in Jelani Al-Malik and dual-threat quarterback McKinley Oliver. Oliver hasn’t been incredibly consistent, but he can be explosive, especially in the run game. Defensive lineman Ben Bennett is a big bully up front on the defensive line, and will have to be accounted for by an offensive line that now has center Rafael Oropeza back.

Along with Oropeza, the Lions have gotten an extra week to lick their wounds.A Washington forfeit followed by a bye and the cancellations of last week have given Galileo plenty of time to recuperate injuries to their top playmakers. Running back Yarvell Smith — who went down with a thumb injury against Lincoln on Oct. 20 — and quarterback Ronald Fox — who went down with an ankle injury in that same game — have both been able to rest for nearly three weeks.

Fox has passed for 672 yards and 11 touchdowns this season — with two picks — while rushing for 477 yards on 55 carries and ripping off 273 kickoff return yards, 48 punt return yards and 111 interception return yards. Smith is averaging 14.6 yards per carry, rushing for 919 yards on 63 carries with 10 touchdowns. Watch out for dynamic Jimmie Edwards III, who has 573 rushing yards on 57 carries and 11 touchdowns, and six catches for 154 yards, not to mention 44 interception return yards and 121 kickoff return yards.

Quarterfinal 2: #4 Balboa (5-3) @ #1 Lincoln (9-0), Thursday at 2 p.m.: Quarterback Jovon Baker, running back Desean Crawford and fullback/linebacker Jack Gaughan have been the engine that’s made the Mustangs go this season, on both sides of the ball.

Lincoln was able to hold AAA rushing leader Yarvell Smith to a paltry 18 yards when they met, and though Balboa has been one of the better teams in the league, they were roundly trounced by the Mustangs, 29-0, on Nov. 3, the final regular season game before Lowell forfeited the would-be season finale on Nov. 9.

Crawford leads the run-first attack for Lincoln, with 1,317 yards on 176 carries, pacing the team with 20 touchdowns on the ground. Baker rarely throws — rushing for 865 yards on 91 carries — but is accurate when he does, completing 39 of 74 passes for 414 yards, with 6-foot-4 Ajani Adewusi his favorite target, catching 17 passes for 251 yards. 

Central Coast Section

Division II Quarterfinal: #5 Serra (6-4) @ #4 Leland (6-4), Friday, 7 p.m. (Saturday, 7 p.m., Alvarez High School in Salinas): The Padres won five of their final seven games, but dropped the season finale to WCAL champion St. Francis, 42-7 — their most lopsided WCAL loss at home since the league formed in 1967. Leland is a fairly well-balanced offense that leans run, thanks to junior dual-threat quarterback Carson Yates.

The 6-foot-3 Yates has completed 85 of 173 passes for 1,308 yards and nine touchdowns through the air, while rushing 122 times for 931 yards and 15 touchdowns. Yates also has a pair of juniors he hands the ball off to most often, in two-sport star Kekoa Lopez (a utility player on the baseball team) and stocky halfback Jesse Cavanna.Lopez has rushed 87 times for 358 yards, and Cavanna has 65 carries for 277.

That means that the Padres’ edge defenders will have to be very assignment sound. Luckily, Serra’s defensive strength is in its linebackers. E.J. Lahlouh leads the Padres with 7.3 tackles per game, and has been insanely productive since missing the first game with an ankle injury, racking up 11.0 tackles for loss (including 5.0 sacks). He’s only gotten better as he’s gotten healthier, and that includes taking a larger role in the offense. Behind him, junior Jackson Lataimua has 49 stops on the season, and Malakai Rango and Damon Lewis each have 4.0 tackles for loss.

Division III Quarterfinal: #6 Sacred Heart Cathedral (5-5) @ #3 Live Oak (8-2), Friday, 7 p.m. (Saturday, 4 p.m., Alisal High School in Salinas): The Irish have their work cut out for them against a Live Oak team that averages 398 yards of offense per game, with 51 touchdowns in their 10 games. Quarterback Jonathan Singleton — also a pitcher in the spring — is averaging 9.36 yards per attempt this season, with 1,929 passing yards and 23 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. This will be the most pass-heavy offense Sacred Heart Cathedral has seen this year, but that doesn’t mean the Acorns don’t have a ground game.

Live Oak has three different players with at least 100 rushing yards this season, led by 907 from Singleton, who’s rushed 84 times with 10 touchdowns. Junior Nick Lomanto is the workhorse out of the backfield, with 101 carries for 557 yards and nine scores.

Defensively, the Irish have a major weapon in sophomore Evan Branch-Haynes, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound athletic marvel who ran the ball and played tight end last season at the lower levels. Between him, and the outside linebacker duo of Evan Dere and Raphael Cervantez, Sacred Heart Cathedral has the ability to cause some trouble for opposing offenses. Middle linebacker David Irwin has also been a TFL machine, with 9.0 on the season.

Running back Anthony Heard hasn’t quite been the weapon he was early in the season. Since rushing for 343 yards in his first three games, Heard has had just two games over 100 yards — a 234-yard game against St. Ignatius and a 108-yard game against Bellarmine Prep.

Division III Quarterfinal: #7 St. Ignatius (3-7) @ #2 Sacred Heart Prep (9-1), Saturday, 1 p.m. (Saturday, 1 p.m. at Alisal High School in Salinas): Yes, you read that right. If the air quality forecast is not looking positive on Friday for Saturday, the CCS will move the games to the Salinas/Monterey area, where the air quality has been better all week. So, even though SI was going to play Saturday anyway, they are part of the Friday-postponement contingency.

Now that that’s out of the way, the Wildcats are playing their best football right now, and though Sacred Heart Prep clearly has the better record, they’ve not faced the kind of competition John Regalia’s crew has faced this season.

The late-season emergence of sophomore linebacker Siaki Hunkin, the 1-2 punch of senior Mark Biggins and sophomore Jahsai Shannon at running back and the promising dual-threat quarterback stylings of Zach Taylor-Smith make St. Ignatius arguably one of the more dangerous teams in the bracket.

That bunch, along with the Wildcats’ pass breakup machine in senior defensive back Jack Hagfeldt, will face a Gators team almost entirely predicated on the run.

Sacred Heart Prep has passed just 94 times this season for 715 yards. Instead, they have three players with at least 400 rushing yards, led by junior Tevita Moimoi. The 6-foot, 205-pounder has rushed for 711 yards on 83 carries with a team-high 13 touchdowns. Senior John Willard has 504 yards on 56 carries, 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior Tommy Barnds has 53 carries for 445 yards and sophomore quarterback Raymond Price III has 66 rushes for 202 yards.

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