SAN FRANCISCO - With PCAL-Gabilan tri-champ Aptos visiting St. Ignatius for the CCS Division II semifinals, only one team was guaranteed of keeping its season going through Thanksgiving. The host Wildcats played some of their best football of the season to earn the honor, defeating the Mariners 28-14 last Friday night.
It was the Wildcats offense that stepped up to set the tone for the evening. After a first-round comeback victory over Half Moon Bay, in which they only scored three first-half points, the 'Cats knew something had to change to keep up with the Mariners’ potent run offense.
The ‘Cats came out on the first possession of the game uncharacteristically throwing the ball, as sophomore quarterback Soren Hummel showed why he was given the starting job midseason, finding receivers for big plays before a screen pass to Gus Parker went for nine yards and the first points of the game. Just five minutes later, he found tight end Con McKeon in the back of the end zone for a 20-yard score. For the first time all year, the SI offense looked comfortable for almost the whole game, and it paid dividends on the field.
“We prepared all week for this,” said Hummel. “All the preparation just showed tonight on the field. Great offensive performance, great run game, which opened up the pass game for us, and I just found my guys.”
The Wildcats may have changed a couple things offensively, but the Mariners did what they’ve been known to do - cause major confusion for defenses with their run-heavy offense. They kept the Wildcat defense on their toes all night, with a flurry of fakes making defenders unsure who had the ball until the runner was well past the line of scrimmage.
Running back Lawrence Ingram IV led the way on the ground for the Mariners offense, converting his seven carries into 59 yards and a TD. The runs opened the passing game for the Mariners, most notably when senior Caden Prichard had no one lined up on him out wide as he ran free for a 30-yard TD reception. Prichard, a star during his time at Aptos, had 14 touches for 107 yards. The Mariners offense played well all night, but it was just a few costly errors that ended a successful season.
“It’s just four years of hard work,” long-time Aptos head coach Randy Blankenship. “That’s what I’ve run for 49 years, it’s what I know. The offense was moving OK today, but we just put the ball on the ground. You put the ball on the ground three times you lose, simple as that.”
Entering the game, everyone assumed it would be a shootout between the two offenses, trading scores and putting up huge numbers, and the first quarter looked like just that. SI led 14-7 after the opening quarter, but not long after the Mariners found themselves set up nicely at the Wildcat three-yard line. Then the unexpected happened.
Sophomore Suitulaga Gallegos Hunkin ran through the Mariners’ protection and popped the ball in the air for what undoubtedly will be the easiest fumble recovery of fellow sophomore Chase Wiley’s life. The SI defense came up big twice more, with Santino Franco and Colin Mulkerrins each recovering a fumble of their own. The Wildcat defense, which showed plenty of concern earlier in the season, played their best football at the right time, holding Aptos to their lowest total of the year.
“Defensively, we knew our work was going to be cut out for us,” said SI head coach John Regalia. “Our defensive coaches did an excellent job, as they’ve done all season, preparing this group. It’s not easy, they’ve got a couple kids that can really go, but I thought our defense did a great job of really finding ways to settle in and finding ways to make plays. We forced takeaways, we stopped them on fourth downs, those are huge things to negate the drives that they could’ve put together.”
The ‘Cats went pass heavy for the first few drives, but they couldn’t have done it without the help of running back Jarious Hogan. His big runs early forced the Mariners to add extra men in run protection, making Hummel’s life simpler. After earning a mid-season varsity callup, Hogan has added a new dimension to this SI offense: the every down big play run threat that the ‘Cats have been missing since Jahsai Shannon graduated in 2021. Hogan found holes on nearly every play, torching the Mariners defense for 115 yards off just 15 carries, as well as adding 25 additional yards through the air. He took over from the second quarter onwards, accounting for final two Wildcat touchdowns to seal the victory.
“I’ll give the credit to the line,” said Hogan. “Everybody was blocking, everybody was on point, and when everybody is on the same page, the scoreboard shows it.”
It was the end to a successful season for the Mariners, as they shared their league trophy. As for the Wildcats, they’ll head to their first championship game in recent history. They’ll try to avenge their loss from earlier this season against WCAL rivals Bellarmine on Saturday night at San Jose City College.