ST. IGNATIUS — Midway through the second quarter of the first game on the new turf at J.B. Murphy Field, a falcon soared over the packed home stands on the outer edge of the Sunset District.
What Teddye Buchanan did over the next four minutes was every bit as breathtaking.
After Palo Alto took the lead on a scoop-and-score, Buchanan ran four times and connected on completions of 32 and 21 yards to give St. Ignatius the lead, then stripped Viking quarterback Kevin Cullen on a sack and recovered the loose ball after Palo Alto (0-1) had crossed midfield. On the very next play, Buchanan hit a streaking Danny Ryan, who broke a tackle en route to a 67-yard touchdown, sparking a 23-7 win.
On a day where both offenses showed signs of early-season rust, it was the two Buchanan-fueled scores in a three-minute, nine-second span that made the difference.
Those two touchdowns were the only offensive scores either team would produce, as the SI defense kept Palo Alto off the scoreboard, containing Fresno State commit Jamir Shepard and forcing four turnovers against a team that had averaged 34.4 points per game last year and had handed the Wildcats a season-opening loss in 2018.
This time around, it was St. Ignatius (1-0) that would open the year with a home victory, and it came before one of the biggest crowds J.B. Murphy Field had seen in years. A pregame ceremony to dedicate the new playing surface, hundreds of red-clad students and even a live DJ made for a raucous atmosphere in a stadium that had typically seen moribund gatherings in recent years.
“It was a great turnout by the student body,” athletic director John Mulkerrins said. “The school has made a dedication to get together and celebrate achievements, whether it’s an athletic event, a drama event or something else.”
Senior linebacker Andrew Cummings rode the energy of that crowd as much as anyone, forcing a fumble and collecting an interception over the course of the game.
“It was great to see for our first game,” he said.
With Palo Alto dead set on keeping the ball away from All-City linebacker Siaki Gallegos-Hunkin, it gave Cummings, Seta Netane and Duke Reeder a chance to shine. Pressure from Reeder set up Cummings’ early interception, Netane’s 15-yard pick six gave the hosts the lead midway through the first quarter and Cummings recovered a fumble late in the third after a Kealan O’Connell field goal had given the Wildcats a 16-point lead.
“It starts with our coaching staff,” head coach John Regalia said. “Gustavo Manzanares does a great job with the defense, and they played fast and hard.”
Shepard got his 80 yards on six receptions, but his only play of more than 20 yards was a 37-yard reception in the fourth quarter. Junacio Henley had four catches for 32 yards and 6-foot-4 tight end Louis Passarello, another player with Division I interest, had 45 yards on his four receptions.
The defense’s ability to hold Palo Alto’s talented receivers in check was critical, as the offense stalled outside of Buchanan’s electric five minutes. The Wildcats are piecing together solutions at the running back position after graduating Mark Biggins and losing Jahsai Shannon, whose family moved to Las Vegas. Both Joe Celentano (nine carries for 23 yards) and Mark Silva (8-23) showed decent rushing ability, but it was the quarterback tandem of Buchanan and Zach Taylor-Smith who were the most productive on the ground. Buchanan had nine carries for 36 yards, and even with sacks putting a dent in his numbers, Taylor-Smith ran eight times for 22.
Buchanan was the primary quarterback, attempting 12 passes to Taylor-Smith’s nine and getting approximately two-thirds of the snaps under center, but Taylor-Smith was valuable not only in his offensive production but in his ability to take over so that Buchanan could rest up to play linebacker, where he’s garnered a handful of Division I offers.
“It would be really tough to play both the whole game,” Buchanan added. “It’s good for our team to have Zach in there.”
Both Buchanan and Taylor-Smith found a favorite target in Ryan, who looked like he hadn’t missed a beat after taking a year off of football to focus on basketball and lacrosse. He had four catches for 152 yards, with 51 coming on his first reception and 67 on the touchdown. His 20-yard reception in the third helped set up O’Connell’s field goal, a solid day for a weapon who had never played varsity football.
“They were press coveraging us, so once we got by the first line it was fine,” Ryan said. “We’ve been playing with both Zach and Teddye for a while, so they were both in rhythm.”
Ryan caught two passes apiece from each of the quarterbacks and looks to be a key factor moving ahead. The 67-yard catch gave SI a two-score lead after Palo Alto (0-1) had gone up by a point just over three minutes earlier as Jurgen Dittrich forced a fumble that Passarello scooped up in the end zone for a touchdown.
The offense will be tested again next Saturday as the Wildcats travel to Atherton with hopes of avenging last year’s playoff defeat to Sacred Heart Prep, a game in which they scored just seven points.