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Serra vs. De La Salle “needed to happen”
Serra’s Patrick Walsh and De La Salle’s Justin Alumbaugh were leaders behind California’s return-to-play movement, a months-long fight in late 2020 and early 2021 that led to thousands of high school kids across the state emerging from COVID lockdown to their sport of choice for an abbreviated spring season.
But long before that exhausting and ultimately successful campaign, the football coaches were friends.
Walsh was a star running back at De La Salle and class valedictorian in 1993. A few years later, Alumbaugh followed at the Concord powerhouse. He was a teammate of Walsh’s brother, Nick.
“Patrick’s dad was my Little League coach,” said Alumbaugh, who graduated from De La Salle in 1998. “His younger brother is a close friend of mine. Patrick is obviously a really close friend of mine. I talk to Patrick maybe every two days, maybe every day.”
They all had their hand in De La Salle’s national-record 151-game winning streak.
Naturally, Walsh and Alumbaugh prefer rooting for one another than trying to beat a friend. But deep down, given the stature of their programs in Northern California, they knew the series between the schools had to be resumed for the first time in six years.
Friday night, Serra will visit De La Salle. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.
“Patrick and I actually joked about it,” Alumbaugh said. “It’s not good for either one of our health. We pull for him every week and he pulls for us every week, except for this Friday night.”
For an early September matchup, the stakes couldn’t be juicier.
– De La Salle is No. 1 in the Bay Area News Group rankings; Serra is No. 2.
– Serra just won its season opener on the road against Folsom, another NorCal heavyweight that ended De La Salle’s season last season.
– De La Salle had to play Folsom in the regionals last year because Serra – not DLS – was picked by the California Interscholastic Federation to represent NorCal in the Open Division state championship game.
— After historic losses last year to St. Francis and Folsom, De La Salle is trying to reclaim its status as NorCal’s top team.
Is No. 1 right now that big of a deal?
As Walsh stood on Folsom’s blue turf after his team’s epic 17-12 victory on Friday, he was asked about being No. 1 in NorCal.
“It’s a great question and I don’t really care, I am not going to lie,” said Walsh, who is 0-10 against his alma mater. “As a matter of fact, when the rankings came out and De La Salle was No. 1, I immediately texted Justin. I said, ‘Thank God.’ That’s one more thing that De La Salle would use against us. We strive to be a November-based team. Being No. 1 in Northern California is fleeting. It’s really not our focus at the moment.”
Walsh certainly set up his team to be NorCal’s top team. Who else would have the courage to open a season with back-to-back road games against Folsom and De La Salle?
But they all know these matchups — including this Friday’s between friends — are good for the sport.
“It’s a game that for high school football needed to happen,” Alumbaugh said. “You never want to play your friend, so to speak. But we both knew for our programs and NorCal football, it’s like, ‘Hey, man, this should happen.’ We’re both going to suffer for six days until Friday night and then we move on.”
— Darren Sabedra
No vacation for Pittsburg’s Pirates
The final buzzer had hardly stopped echoing through the Pittsburg night when stand-in coach Charlie Ramirez set his team’s focus on its next opponent. The Pirates will travel to San Diego to play Liberty of Nevada on Saturday afternoon in the Honor Bowl.
The last time the Pirates made a trip south, nine months ago, it was to play Liberty of Bakersfield in their territory.
Ramirez said for some players, it was the first time they had stayed in a hotel, adding he did not want to make excuses for the 35-7 loss in a NorCal regional.
“It was an eye-opening experience for them,” Ramirez said. “Now that we have that under our belt, this group is a bunch of veterans. They see what it’s like to have these business trips and travel experiences where they’re staying overnight.”
With the majority of the Pirates getting playing time in their 59-0 season-opening rout over Bethel, the entire roster should be in game shape. And if Ramirez, who is expected to return to being the defensive coordinator after Vic Galli returns to the sidelines this week, is correct, then they should be mentally prepared as well.
“We’re saying that this is a business trip,” Ramirez said. “This isn’t a trip to San Diego where we’re on vacation. We’re going down there to get the win.”
— Joseph Dycus
Pioneer-Santa Teresa: Another thriller
Last season, Pioneer’s season ended in a heartbreaking fashion. The Mustangs lost in the Central Coast Section playoffs to Santa Teresa 45-42 in triple overtime.
Friday night, the teams met again to open the season.
This time, thanks to a late touchdown pass from Gage Houser to Anthony Stoopenkoff and a game-clinching interception from Ethan Schweizer, Pioneer won the rematch 20-14.
“It felt good,” longtime Pioneer coach Eric Perry said Saturday. “It was a little more special. I had a lot of my guys that graduated last year on our sideline last night. I think they enjoyed the win as much as my guys right now. It was a good win for Pioneer football.”
— Darren Sabedra
What makes Miramonte QB special
Miramonte’s Luke Duncan has all of the obvious traits associated with a top quarterback prospect. He stands 6-6 and weighs close to 200 pounds, possesses a rocket arm capable of throwing frozen ropes to the far sideline, and is committed to Pac-12 contender UCLA.
But the senior also has intangible qualities that are less noticeable but are just as crucial when playing quarterback at a higher level.
Miramonte coach Jack Schram pointed out one play from Miramonte’s 48-20 win over Berkeley on Friday that illustrated this. Duncan threw three touchdowns in the first half, and his coach said he could have thrown twice as many if the team had been sharper.
“On the first touchdown, Berkeley brought an eight-man blitz,” Schram said. “We’re in the spread, and Luke saw that blitz coming. So he got a little extra depth on his drop back to give himself more time, and that made it an easy uncontested touchdown.”
While Duncan’s height helped him see over the pressure and find his target, Schram said Duncan’s poise and innate sense to adjust in the pocket is something you only see with experienced and intelligent quarterbacks.
“You might see a younger quarterback get flustered and maybe tuck the ball in and try to run,” Schram said. “And he might not even notice the receiver is uncovered.”
Schram credited Duncan for helping Miramonte avoid sacks and pressures, but he also made sure to give props to the offensive line. Titans like guard Luke Davis make it possible for Duncan to pick out receivers such as Jimmy Foster downfield.
“The line did a fantastic job, and I don’t think Luke got hit once in the game,” Schram said. “That’s every quarterback’s dream, to go the whole game without being touched.”
— Joseph Dycus
Update on injured Archbishop Riordan player
Archbishop Riordan’s 31-10 victory over Granada was marred and ended with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter after junior running back/defensive back Aidan Laxa suffered a scary injury when he was slammed to the turf after a play by a Granada player.
On Sunday night, Riordan coach Adhir Ravipati said Laxa was resting at home.
“Aidan is doing ok and is back home resting now,” Ravipati said via text. “We are thankful it wasn’t anything more serious but he did suffer a concussion.”
“I’m just glad that Aidan is ok and that is the most important thing.”
Ethan Kassel of the San Francisco Standard reported that Laxa was removed from the field on a stretcher and transported to a hospital after he felt tingling in his spine. He had movement in all of his extremities, the Standard reported.
“One of their kids grabbed our kid, twisted him and slammed him to the ground,” Ravipati told Kassel after the game. “I’m just really angry because my kid got cheap shotted, and now he’s in the hospital.”
— Joseph Dycus
Peek ahead to Week 2
Serra (1-0) at De La Salle (1-0), 8 p.m.: As noted above, the stakes couldn’t be higher for a game at this point in the season.
Bellarmine (0-1) at McClymonds (1-0), 7:30 p.m.: Not an easy bounce-back opponent for Bellarmine.
Del Oro (2-0) at Clayton Valley Charter (0-1), 7 p.m.: Ugly Eagles try to avoid back-to-back home losses.
Elk Grove (1-1) at Menlo-Atherton (1-0), 7 p.m.: What will M-A’s Jurrion Dickey do for an encore?
Monterey Trail-Elk Grove (0-2) at St. Francis (1-0), 7:15 p.m.: Monterey Trail has already played Folsom and De La Salle.
Campolindo (1-0) at Aptos (1-0), 7:30 p.m.: Last year in Moraga, Aptos stunned Campo 49-0.
Archbishop Mitty (1-0) at Mountain View (1-0), 7 p.m.: Mitty has already matched last season’s win total.
Lincoln-San Jose (1-0) at San Jose (0-1), 7 p.m.: Still hard getting used to the Big Bone game on Labor Day weekend.
— Darren Sabedra