Christopher High football coach Darren Yafai and his staff traveled to San Francisco last Saturday to scout the Sacred Heart Cathedral-Mountain View game. To say the Fightin’ Irish looked impressive would be a vast understatement.
“They’re the real deal,” Yafai said. “Seeing them in person, they look even bigger in person than on film.”
Depending on whether you’re an optimist or pessimist, that means the Cougars have the Irish right where they want them or could be in a tough position to keep things within striking distance. The two teams play for the Central Coast Section Division III playoff championship on Saturday at Sequoia High in Redwood City. Kickoff is 7pm.
All season long, the undersized and No. 4 seed Cougars (7-5) have taken on bigger opponents and for the most part have excelled. They’re coming off a dominant 36-11 win over top-seed Leland in a semifinal result that Yafai said was “our most complete game of the year on both sides of the ball.”
Christopher will have to be firing on all cylinders again against a SHC team that is also playing its best football of the season. The No. 3 seed Irish (5-7) rolled to a 21-0 win over Leigh in the opening round before pasting a solid Mountain View squad 42-14 in the semis.
Yafai said the Irish have size, athleticism, playmakers, physicality and no glaring weaknesses.
“Sacred Heart, especially on offense, is a complete football team with a lot of talent,” he said. “There’s a reason why they come out of the West Catholic League and are in the championship game.”
Beating A-league teams like Palo Alto and Leland in the last two weeks and competing with teams like San Benito and Salinas during the regular-season has prepared the Cougars for Saturday’s title contest. They haven’t come this far to settle for being the runner-ups.
“If we play with the same intensity and execute like we did against Leland, we definitely have a shot against Sacred Heart Cathedral,” Yafai said. “We brought our ‘A’ game against Leland, and it’ll take another one of those efforts to have a chance to win.”
CHS looked downright impressive against Leland, completely shutting down one of the section’s top rushing attacks. The Chargers entered the contest averaging nearly 300 yards rushing per game but were held to 13 yards.
“I knew we had the potential, but I didn’t think we’d be that ferocious,” Yafai said. “We took their run game away and forced them to throw, which isn’t their forte.”
CHS has played inspired ball throughout the season and especially during the playoffs, highlighted by a pair of sophomore junior varsity call-ups who have combined for four interceptions. William Rizqalla had two picks against Palo Alto and Amari Bluford did the same against Leland, helping to turn the tide in each game.
The amazing thing is that both players spent the majority of the season on the JV squad before being called up a month ago after the Cougars sustained a spate of injuries. Speaking of injuries, two of the team’s best players—Jaterius Lee and Cody Ahola—left the Leland game with ailments.
Lee is expected to play against SHC, but Ahola’s status as of Tuesday was uncertain.
“J is good to go and Cody we’re really not sure,” Yafai said. “He’s a tough kid mentally and physically with a lot of heart. I told him most other kids coming back from an injury like his and having a full-ride scholarship would’ve said, ‘I’m just going to wait for college’ and no one would’ve blamed him for doing that. But he said, ‘Nope, I want to play with my buddies and I love the game of football.’ He’s already proven to everybody he’s got a big heart, so if he’s healthy and good to go, that’s a bonus for us.”
Yafai said it’ll be imperative for the team to be more productive with the run game on Saturday. CHS finished with just 41 yards rushing on 31 carries against Leland, but that won’t get the job done against the Irish.
“If we can establish a semblance of a running game, then that really opens things up to have success spreading the ball around and keeping our defense from having to live on the field,” he said.
With the exception of blowout losses to Aptos and Palma, the Cougars have hung tough and beaten some high caliber A-league teams this season. They’ll need to do it one more time to win the program’s second CCS championship.
“It sure would be nice for our school, for our community, to chalk one up for the little guys again,” Yafai said.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.