Though they’re set to square off in playoff games against schools they’ve never faced before, both of which are coming off dominant victories, don’t expect the players from the St. Ignatius and Burlingame football teams to be cowed by the high-stakes nature of the contests.
After the seasons these teams have endured, not much will faze them.
“In the last three weeks, we’ve played Sacred Heart Prep when both teams we’re undefeated, played our rival, San Mateo, and played another local rival [Aragon] in a playoff game,” said Burlingame coach John Philipopoulos, whose team has won 21 games over the past two seasons. “The guys are all used to playing in front of big crowds, with a lot on the line, so I don’t think we’ll be fazed at all by the moment.”
Battle-tested Burlingame (10-1) and St. Ignatius (6-5) will know what to expect as part of the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs, which resume tonight with the second-seeded Panthers taking on third-seeded Aptos (10-1), and fourth-seeded Wildcats facing top-seeded Pioneer of San Jose (9-2).
While his team won’t be rattled by the circumstances, Philipopoulos knows the Panthers face a formidable opponent in Aptos, which blasted undefeated Branham of San Jose 50-3 in last week’s quarterfinal game. The Mariners, looking to defend their CCS Division III title, have outscored their opponents by a staggering 467-92 margin, and their defense has surrendered just 16 points over the past six games.
“They scored 24 points in the first quarter of last week’s game, so I think a huge key for us will be getting off to a good start,” Philipopoulos said. “It’s important that we keep them off the field, and to do that, we need to have a nice run-pass balance and convert on third down.”
Like Burlingame, St. Ignatius is also facing a team on a hot streak. Pioneer trounced Saratoga 56-21 last week, and Mustangs senior quarterback Zach Silva has tossed 30 touchdown passes this season.
“Based on the tape we’ve seen, they’re an extremely well-coached team,” St. Ignatius coach John Regalia said. “They’ve got a very talented quarterback, two explosive receivers and some solid running backs, and you can tell that the coaches game plan each week to take advantage of those guys.”
To combat Pioneer, the Wildcats, who emerged from a typically brutal West Catholic Athletic League schedule, will rely heavily on senior quarterback Ryan Hagfeldt, a veteran set to make his 25th straight start for St. Ignatius.
“Ryan’s performance on the field this season has been tremendous, but he’s also been a great leader for us, which is just as important” Regalia said. “In these kind of games, you have to minimize your mistakes, and it helps tremendously to have a senior leader like Ryan making sure we play smart.”
If St. Ignatius and Burlingame manage to defeat their unfamiliar opponents tonight, they’ll meet next week in the CCS Division III championship game. That setting will be much more recognizable — last year, the Wildcats defeated the Panthers 41-21 in the CCS Division III semifinals.