At least on this night, not having an effective passing game shows that the Spartans still have a way to go to get close to the CIF Open Division championship level of St. John Bosco and Bosco’s league rivals from Mater Dei. Their front seven on defense, however, could end up being equal to many of the best in school history. For St. Francis, we’ve now watched the Lancers along with WCAL rivals Valley Christian and San Mateo Serra and it looks like the preseason hunch about them being the best in CCS was correct.
Don’t forget to look at this week’s State Top 25 Weekend Scoreboard.
Game Attended: St. Francis of Mountain View (No. 13 in State Top 50) at De La Salle of Concord (No. 4).
How Did It End:Two fumbles in the first half by St. Francis led to De La Salle taking a 17-7 lead. One of those was returned 53 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Michael Puckett. Otherwise, the Lancers played the Spartans evenly. In the second half, though, the DLS defense was dominant while the offense slowly began to take control. After the St. Francis offense was pushed back nearly to the end zone, a short punt gave the Spartans the ball inside the SF 30. They finally punched in a touchdown on a 4-yard run by Kairee Robinson (who earlier broke loose for a 52-yard TD) for a 24-7 lead and then scored again with 31 seconds left. De La Salle won by a final score of 31-7. Usually, after a DLS game, the head coach and some players are available for a few minutes for photos and some questions. After this one, however, the players practically sprinted into the locker room and were in there for almost 30 minutes.
Big Picture: DLS is part of the national scene and has another game on that level next Saturday at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas). This follows a win last week over St. John’s of Washington DC. For us at Cal-Hi Sports with our statewide focus, those national games mean next to nothing because they usually don’t change the state rankings. De La Salle’s games against teams like St. Francis (and the one coming up against Central of Fresno) potentially have way more impact. If St. Francis were to have gotten the upset, the Lancers would then be in the driver’s seat for the NorCal berth in the CIF Open Division. And since the CIF can put a CIF Central Section team into the north for any bowl game, the game against Central of Fresno offers the same possibility. After the game, DLS athletic director Leo Lopoz was hoping for Bishop Gorman to win in its game against Miami Central since he didn’t want the Spartans to be facing the Gaels with two straight losses after getting 55 straight wins. Miami Central won 24-20 so DLS indeed will be playing an opponent perhaps a bit ticked off. For St. Francis, the Lancers will remain the top-ranked team in the CIF Central Coast Section despite the loss. Their defense basically held DLS to just one scoring drive of 50 yards or more and none of that length after the first series of the game.
De La Salle Breakdown: There were three straight series in which the Spartans got the ball near midfield and failed to score. It seemed like on at least one of those series they were trying to mix in the passing game and to be nice it was disjointed. We know that it’s only two years removed from when the Spartans won the CIF Open Division state title (beating Centennial after it won that insane scorefest against St. John Bosco for the CIFSS D1 title), but the SoCal big three this year all have major college D1 quarterbacks and it’ll be highly probable that Bosco or Mater Dei in the coming years will always have a D1-bound QB. DLS won a state title in 2007 using QBs Mike McGillivray and Blake Wayne and this year’s duo of Andrew Jones (more of the thrower) and Erich Storti (more of the option runner) may be being groomed similarly. The Veer will always be the bread and butter and Kairee Robinson is a great No. 1 back. A second back, perhaps junior George King, also will need to emerge. Still, the offense doesn’t have a lot of size up front and if the passing game or other elements of the offense don’t develop it may be okay to get DLS another NCS title but to do much better against a Bosco, MD or Centennial probably not. Defense was a different story vs. St. Francis. The Lancers rolled up and down the field in their first two games vs. Oak Grove and Palma but were blanked in the last three quarters. Tuli Letuligasanoa, Puckett and Beaux Tagaloa up front with Henry To’ot’o at LB highlighted a front seven that was versatile and punishing. The secondary has some youngsters who can make mistakes — like sophomore Shamar Garrett — but by the playoffs should be improved.
St. Francis Breakdown: At the Nike events in the spring, Lancer QB Reed Vettel has shown he can zip it with the best of them. He threw two great passes during the team’s lone scoring drive, one of 42 yards to Ryan Higgins and then a 29-yard TD to Maurice Wilmer. Passing just isn’t in the St. Francis DNA, however, and in the second half Vettel’s inability to escape the rush was one reason he was sacked four times. Darrell Page also showed flashes of great talent as a running back and hopefully he won’t be in the doghouse too long for his fumbles. Page is a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior and is a legit D1 college prospect. SF also has two other top-level D1 juniors in TE/LB Josh Pakola (6-3, 220) and OL Nikko Pohahu (6-5, 260). One of the reasons DLS had so much trouble offensive was the disruption caused by LB/DE Junior Fehoko (6-4, 240) whenever the Spartans tried to run on his side. We already knew that DL Tyler Manoa (6-5, 285) was a beast but didn’t think Fehoko was that much of one too. That defensive front will be tough to run against by anyone the rest of the season.
De La Salle Head Coach Justin Alumbaugh: “Last week we can’t do anything right on defense, and this week we can’t do anything right on offense. We had 480 yards of offense last week, and our defense was a mess. This week our defense was really good against a good team — that’s a good team — and our offense was a mess. They’re tough. They’re physical. But we had I don’t know how many penalties, fumbles. We’re running our basic plays, and guys were running to the wrong spot. Something we were concerned about was playing this week after being on ESPN and then next week with Gorman. All we had to do was put (St. Francis) on film and they perked up. It wasn’t that bad of a week of practice but then during the game tonight a couple of kids just lost their minds. We have done the two quarterbacks thing before. Both guys (Storti & Jones) present different strengths. If one of them has the hot hand, we’d stick with the one who has the hot hand.”
Up Next: De La Salle travels to Las Vegas next weekend and will play a Saturday night matchup at national powerhouse Bishop Gorman. The Gaels had a 55-game win streak broken two weeks ago when they lost 35-21 to state No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana). St. Francis will have a bye next week to get ready for the start of its West Catholic Athletic League schedule. That first league game on Sept. 22 also will be a whopper: at Valley Christian (San Jose).