In one respect, defending NorCal D1-AA champ St. Mary’s of Stockton already looks more dangerous than last year after the Rams exploded for 31 points in the second quarter in their 41-13 victory on Saturday at home against Serra of San Mateo.
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Game Attended: Serra of San Mateo (No 33 in preseason State Top 50) at St. Mary’s of Stockton (No. 14).
How Did It End: After a 0-0 first quarter, St. Mary’s rang up four TDs and a field goal in the second quarter and cruised in the second half for a 41-13 triumph. With all of the photo-taking and quotes-gathering that can get hectic after these games end, we were hoping not to be distracted by Twitter updates from the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight. The fight ended about five minutes before the end of the game and when the players were in line shaking hands afterwards many were learning then that Mayweather had won. It was fun to see all of their various reactions.
Big Picture: Since Serra is a team that won a CIF Central Coast Section Open Division title last year, this outcome shows that the Rams are again an elite team. How elite remains to be seen. They clearly proved they can go back up to No. 2 overall in Northern California behind De La Salle, especially with a matchup coming on Sept. 23 against state No. 1 Mater Dei at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The Padres started 0-4 last year before going on to the finish they had last year so coming back from a loss like this may not be a problem. Combined with Valley Christian losing to Manteca on Friday, the pair of losses actually could help CCS teams win state titles later on because those teams probably will get seeded lower on the NorCal bowl board than the D1-D2-D3 champions from the Sac-Joaquin Section. And the lower you are on the bowl board the further you’re away potentially from teams like Narbonne, Helix and the CIF Southern Section D2 champ.
St. Mary’s Breakdown: From having speed on the edges, this team at St. Mary’s has even more than last year, which is a scary thought. That’s because of the addition of track speedsters Jamar Marshall and Joseph Fontes. Fontes was a CIF state meet qualifier in the 100 last spring and Marshall is a top hurdler. Throw those two in with returnees Marcus Aponte and Tre Jenkins and then also add DuMaurier Cotton (a junior and younger brother of graduated standout Dewey Cotton) and it’s quite a potent group. Fontes and Marshall scored on spectacular 56-yard TDs in the second quarter that broke the game open. Marshall later scored on a 74-yard TD pass play. The only downer of the night is that sophomore QB Noah May (who passed for 228 yards and three TDs in his debut according to the Stockton Record) suffered an apparent shoulder injury while reaching for a fumble in the third quarter. Sources said at the game that May will be out for several weeks. He said he’ll be back for the Mater Dei game, but head coach Tony Franks just said “we’ll see.” Aponte moves to QB with May out and while the new receivers looked great this team is simply going to be better with Aponte playing in that receiver corps as well. One big difference from last year also is the offensive line. Max Barth (6-6, 250) is a force, but the line in general is not nearly as big as last year and that seemed to effect the running game with Dusty Frampton. He still rushed for 122 yards on 24 carries and that lack of size may not be a factor against many future foes, but against Mater Dei and potentially Folsom yeah it probably will be.
Serra Breakdown: Looking at the teams from a physical standpoint (size and athleticism), one might have picked Serra to win at the start. Massive nose guard Atonio Mafi (6-3, 350) was dominating the middle of the line in the early going and Patrick Nunn (6-3, 210) was being used in a number of different ways. The Padres’ offense, however, never did really get going while St. Mary’s began to find seams in the Serra defense. The main problem was getting over not having graduated standout Leki Nunn at quarterback any more. As we tweeted during the game sometimes it takes seeing a team for the first time playing without a player like Leki to see how valuable he was to that team. It’ll take awhile for the offense to figure out its identity, but despite giving up those big plays the defense showed signs it could be very good and on the same level as Valley Christian. Luke Bottari threw two TD passes to get the Padres on the board late in the game — one to Lucas Hackett-Provenzano (47 yards) and the other to Andres Atkins (53 yards).
Serra Head Coach Patrick Walsh: “It felt like we were playing De La Salle the way they were making big plays. It was very fast. Big play, kickoff out of the end zone, punt, big play, turnover, then you look up at it’s 24-0. We need to work on everything. Our offense had no rhythm, never found its identity. Leki (Nunn) wasn’t just one of the best ever from our school but one of the best ever from our area. He bailed us out of a lot of things last season. It’ll have to be more of a collective effort this season.”
St. Mary’s Head Coach Tony Franks: “We felt like we had that capability at receiver. I’m glad we were able to get (Joseph) loose for that touchdown. Marshall is just a sophomore and a track guy too. A lot of our young guys had no downs on varsity before and when they get out there you never know. Noah was off to a great start. He did a solid job. It’s just a shame he was hurt on a turnover. It really is too early to tell too much (from this win). You just look at the faces of them in the room and they’re just guys who haven’t played that much. Staying healthy may be more important this year. We’re a little thin in numbers than usual.”
Up Next: Serra travels to another CIF Sac-Joaquin Section school next Saturday to play Elk Grove, which lost its first game to Inderkum of Sacramento 52-36. St. Mary’s travels to Santa Rosa where it will meet Cardinal Newman on Friday . The Cards won their opener 41-18 over Fortuna, but it’s a massive jump from Fortuna to the Rams.