Key Takeaways At Bay Area Openers

T.J. Lateef (left) threw for a pair of touchdowns for Orange Lutheran during game vs De La Salle. At right, Cole Harrison makes the catch as part of a 60-yard touchdown for San Mateo Serra in game vs Folsom. Photos: Willie Eashman.

The prep football season in the Bay Area starts one week later than most of California due to the smaller size of its sectional playoff brackets. After watching Orange Lutheran come up to play at De La Salle and then Serra of San Mateo host Folsom, the big question on our minds is whether the third best team from the Trinity League is better than every other team in Northern California?

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Saturday afternoon home games at Serra of San Mateo, especially when the Padres are hosting a big-time opponent like they did this week, always present the opportunity for a double-header with a game the night before.

It wasn’t the first game of the season for Cal-Hi Sports (that was Clovis West of Fresno at St. Mary’s of Stockton from the previous week), but longtime powerhouse De La Salle of Concord starting its season at home the night before against Lutheran of Orange and then Serra playing 2021 & 2022 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 champion Folsom the next day was a double-header that couldn’t be resisted.

Steve Chavez is the junior power running back for Orange Lutheran who has made a huge impact after his transfer from Damien of La Verne. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Here are some key takeaways from checking out both games – a 35-14 win for Orange Lutheran on Friday and a 21-14 win for Serra on Saturday.

*Orange Lutheran came up after starting its season the week before with an impressive 47-14 win over Serra of Gardena. That’s a game between those two that has been very close in recent years. Winning at De La Salle 35-14 displayed a lot to like about the Lancers and showed that the Orange County Register probably was correct in moving them up in front of teams like Mission Viejo and Los Alamitos to No. 2 in its rankings behind mighty Mater Dei (Santa Ana).

*We couldn’t remember if OLu had ever played DLS before, but certainly remember the 2006 CIF state football triple-header played at the Home Depot Center (now Stub Hub Center) in Carson that marked the first CIF state football finals played since 1927. The Lancers were in the D2 game that night and beat Palo Alto behind four touchdown passes and two touchdown runs from 2006 Mr. Football State Player of the Year Aaron Corp. The Spartans came on right afterward and were upset by Canyon of Canyon Country. The two schools did play in 2015 (the year when DLS won its sixth CIF Open Division state title in seven years) and the Spartans won, 41-3. Corp was at DLS on Friday as the Orange Lutheran offensive coordinator.

*A lot has happened in SoCal football since 2015, including schools getting a lot of transfers, seemingly all linemen from the major programs all being 300 pounds or more, and a lot of those schools playing national/regional schedules. OLu hasn’t backed down from trying to compete with its two Trinity League members that have become the top two teams not just in California but in the nation – St. John Bosco & Mater Dei – and starting in 2021 has been building toward bigger and better accomplishments. This year’s team already looks like the best one that head coach Rod Sherman has had in his three years since he returned to the school. Better than Anaheim Servite of 2021, which was the only team in the Trinity League to come close to the big two in about 10 years? Maybe not, but there’s still plenty of games left to play.

*One of the reasons that Mater Dei and Bosco are so hard to slow down is that they can run and pass the ball almost equally well. The Lancers aren’t as deep but with the addition of 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior Steve Chavez (transferred in from Damien of La Verne where he started as a freshman) they can pound the ball very effectively. And Chavez is a home run threat with stiff-arms, hurdling and tackle-breaking, which he did to De La Salle on a 59-yard touchdown run that pushed a precarious 21-14 lead up to 28-14 in the third quarter. He finished with 157 yards and three touchdowns on the night.

*The OLu passing game was hard to stop as well, especially on crossing routes by Joseph De La Torre (5-yard TD catch in first quarter) and Tyler Hennessy. An impressive 6-foot-6, 215-pound junior, AJ Ia, also caught a touchdown pass. Junior QB T.J. Lateef, who started last season and has D1 offers, completed 11 of 19 passes for 143 yards. He also had 34 yards rushing. Sophomore QB Alex Medyn (6-1, 190) also had one series and has a cannon arm. As good as T.J. looks, Alex is going to get some reps as well. He is also a D1 recruit.

*One of the Lancers’ top returnees from last year, junior defensive lineman Jireh Moe, hasn’t played yet this season. A big time recruit who has played and stood out against De La Salle is 6-foot-4, 215-pound sophomore defensive end Talanoa Ili. He has offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oregon and others.

Junior Dominic Kelley is a junior running back for De La Salle who should get better and better as season goes along. Photo: Willie Eashman.

*Despite DLS losing by 35-14, the differences between the teams weren’t that pronounced. A late TD with 1:44 left perhaps wasn’t needed and earlier in the second half when the score was still 21-14 in OLu’s favor it looked like the Spartans might score to tie it up again. In the first half, both teams scored on their first two drives and it was 14-14 at halftime. The Spartans still have work to do to upgrade their passing game, but it looked like they hit a big one deep into OLu territory on a 37-yard pass from junior Toa Faavae. The ball then got stripped on the tackle and was recovered by OLu’s Wes Barksdale. Chavez had his big run five plays later. This is a De La Salle team with very few seniors that should get much better as the season goes along.

*One team that will find out if De La Salle can get much better in just one week will be Serra of San Mateo. The Padres are coming off of their best season ever, which started with wins at Folsom and at De La Salle and ended with a lopsided loss to Bosco in the CIF Open Division state final. It was their only loss and based upon the players who are returning they should be even better this season. Head coach Patrick Walsh knows all about teams having to deal with expectations from his years at De La Salle (one year, one game, one play at a time) so we wouldn’t think the Padres will get ahead of themselves.

*Chatting with Patrick’s father, Chick, almost always happens at a Serra game and for the one Saturday against Folsom we happened to have been doing that just as the Padres were going to snap the ball for the first time this season. Chick said to watch for a trick play. Yep, it happened and it worked perfectly. Nano Latu caught a backward pass in the left flat, but stopped after one step and then threw a pass downfield to a wide open Charlie Willey, who made the catch and galloped into the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown.

*Serra also hit on a big play to score on its third series. There was no trick. It was just senior QB Maealiuaki Smith finding junior Cole Harrison for a 60-yard touchdown on second-and-10. Harrison is a 6-foot-6, 215-pounder and at first watching him the thought was that “Serra has another great tight end.” He’s not a tight end, though. He can run and he can beat smaller corners. He’s just a big receiver right now.

When one goes to a Folsom game to see a QB for the first time, it’s a tradition to be sure to get a photo. Ryder Lyons, just a sophomore, is going to be a major college prospect. Photo: Mark Tennis.

*Other than the two big plays, Folsom’s defense showed it was a force during the game, too. The Bulldogs, who had opened their season with a 35-0 win over Monterey Trail of Elk Grove, had some players to replace in the secondary and they have done that and should be fine. Up front, junior Theo Gruele (6-2, 250) and senior Lucas Hardeman (6-1, 235) were especially impressive.

*It was our first look at new Folsom quarterback Ryder Lyons. He’s a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore who is the younger brother of Walker Lyons, the all-state tight end who is now a freshman at USC and who suffered a broken leg as a senior in his first game last season. Ryder has had to come on perhaps one year earlier than expected with the reclassification departure of Austin Mack to Washington (listed as a junior last season). He faced a relentless pass rush by the Padres and entering the fourth quarter the team was looking at getting shut out. He even had to leave the game for a play in the first half after taking a hit. But if you like your QBs to be relentless, super-competitive and never backing down, then Lyons is your guy. He finally got the Bulldogs on the board with a 30-yard TD pass with 6:11 left to Daymion Rivera. They got the ball back with 4:33 on their own 19-yard line and drove for an 81-yard score. Ryder accounted for all 81 yards rushing or throwing with him running for a 13-yard TD with 2:30 left. Folsom couldn’t get an onside kick and Serra held on for the win, but you can mark it down that Lyons is legitimately going to be up there with all of the top sophomore QBs in the nation. We’ve seen all Folsom QBs since Dano Graves in the late 2000s and into 2010 and Ryder also will for sure keep that tradition going strong. He didn’t throw for 10 touchdowns in one game like Jake Browning did as a sophomore in 2012, but what he did in the fourth quarter against Serra was perhaps just as impressive.

*What makes Serra so unique is all of the players it has that are starters on defense who can all be used for different plays here and there on offense. Jaden Green would have to be called the top running back, but Marley Alapati, Jabari Mann and Danny Niu all get carries and can do power running behind a Trinity League sized offensive line, including Colorado State commit John Holthaus (6-7, 290). We’re not sure Serra would have the receivers to match up with Orange Lutheran, but the Padres have had injuries there and senior Kyon Loud had to go out with an injury vs Folsom and didn’t come back. You’d clearly have to say that OLu looks better than every team in NorCal except Serra, but better than Serra? We’ll keep ranking the Padres higher for now.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle:

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