Saturday’s battle of Atherton -- PAL Bay version between host Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo-Atherton -- should go a long way toward deciding the league title.
If there was one.
Yes, teams are playing for fun rather than for accolades and championships in this one-of-a-kind, pandemic-delayed football season. Nevertheless, the winner of this game will enjoy a sense of accomplishment and grounds to celebrate standing toe to toe with a neighboring worthy opponent and rival, and coming out on top.
“A lot of the kids work out together,’’ SHP coach Mark Grieb said. “That makes for a good, I wouldn’t say rivalry -- Menlo (School) is our rival -- but for an exciting, heated game. And then you’ve got the socio-cultural differences between a public and a private school. At the end of the day we’re all playing football with respect for the game.’’
Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at SHP.
Sacred Heart Prep (3-0) is coming off a 38-31 win over a King’s Academy team coached by former longtime SHP coach Pete Lavorato.
“I like to call it a barn-burner,’’ Grieb said. “The confidence and resilience of our team was impressive.’’
M-A (2-0) is coming off a 21-0 win over Burlingame, a team that SHP also held scoreless. M-A’s defense has impressed in the early going under first-year coordinator T.J. Matsumoto.
“In camp our offense struggled against our defense,’’ said first-year head coach Chris Saunders, who doubles as offensive coordinator.
Inside linebackers Andrew Buck and Sione Vaka have stood out.
“Playing all these multiple running back teams they have had to stay patient and disciplined,’’ Saunders said.
M-A’s talent and depth makes the team a formidable matchup problem.
“They’ve got a bunch of big guys, a bunch of fast guys,’’ Grieb said. “We’ll accept being the underdog. They’ve got some wide loaders. You’re not going to move them too far. Their big guys will try to bully you, push you around.
“How do we handle their size? How do they handle our quickness? How do they handle playing a day game? They’re a big-play football team. We will have to try to limit the big plays they get.’’
M-A has won the last five games between the two by scores of 26-20, 30-0, 42-35, 35-13 and 17-14. The last time SHP won was in 2014, 31-21, when Lavorato and Sione Taufoou were the head coaches.
This will be the first taste of the series for Saunders.
“They are very crisp on both sides of the ball,’’ he said of the Gators. “They do a great job of getting their kids ready. The quarterback (Teddy Purcell) makes a lot of plays outside the pocket. Their receiver (Paul Barton) is a great talent. Their defense is tough and gritty. They fight through blocks, play with great motors and intensity. We’ve got to play disciplined and keep it all in front of us. If we go for their misdirection we’ll be in for a long day.’’
Fremont at Gunn, Thursday 7 p.m.
After the big win over Homestead, the Titans (2-0) will find themselves in the position of the hunted the rest of the season.
Fremont is coming off a win over Lynbrook. The Firebirds lost their opener to Homestead 34-10, a team that Gunn beat 42-12. So the Titans will go into this one as heavy favorites.
“I’m anxious to see how we respond,’’ Gunn coach Jason Miller said. “Do we let success get into our heads? That’s the surest recipe for a loss.’’
No opposing defense has found a way to stop Gunn’s double-wing ground attack. It’s a system Miller learned from Don Markham, a legendary Southern California prep coach. The Titans lead the Central Coast Section, among teams that have reported statistics, in rushing offense at 443.5 yards per game. Richard Jackson IV is the top individual rusher in the CCS with his average of 187.5 yards per game.
Against Homestead, all five Gunn ball carriers averaged upwards of 7 yards per carry. When you’re gaining 7 yards every time you run the ball, you don’t need to pass very often. Junior quarterback James Lambert has only thrown five passes over the first two games, but has rushed 16 times for 219 yards (13.7 yards per carry).
Milpitas at Palo Alto, Saturday 7 p.m.
Maybe the Vikings will actually get a home game this time.
Last Saturday Paly was scheduled to play its home opener. But a power outage on the day of the game forced the teams to play at Mountain View. And the Vikings only had two home games on their schedule to begin with. Now they have one.
The Spartans took advantage of the venue switch to pull out a 38-21 victory, their first win over Palo Alto since 2002, when the Spartans won, 32-11, in a nonleague game. Paly was 13-0 versus Mountain View since.
“Give them all the credit,’’ Palo Alto coach Nelson Gifford said. “At the end of the day they played better.’’
Paly and Milpitas, two teams that are accustomed to being part of the top echelon in the SCVAL De Anza Division along with Wilcox and Los Gatos, are both off to 0-2 starts. Milpitas has been blasted by Wilcox and Los Gatos in its first two games, outscored by a combined 93-14.
“I’m just happy the kids are playing,’’ Gifford said. “I can’t evaluate where (Milpitas) is at. They’ve got talent.’’
Paly had a special guest last week when superstar NFL receiver Davante Adams showed up at his old school to talk to current players as well as to donate shoes and uniforms.
“That was so special,’’ Gifford said. “He came out and talked to the team, so they heard about the past. That’s the kind of experience that sticks with you, that they’ll always remember. That’s what I’m excited about, the opportunity to build a community around the history of Palo Alto High School and Palo Alto football.’’
Capuchino at Menlo School, Saturday 2 p.m.
The first two games of the Todd Smith era at Menlo have certainly been a success as the Knights beat Hillsdale 30-7 and Aragon 40-14.
“I’m exceptionally pleased,’’ said Smith, Menlo’s first-year head coach. “They’ve shown an exceptional amount of emotion to start a game.’’
And it’s come as Menlo players have dealt with a cluster of tragic personal events. Smith said three players have lost grandparents in recent weeks and that wide receiver Robby Enright lost his 17-year-old cousin, Michael Enright, in a car accident.
“Our kids are really pulling together,’’ Smith said.
Sergio Beltran, who won the quarterback job after competing with two other players in preseason practice, accounted for six touchdowns against Aragon, four passing and two running.
Capuchino (2-1) beat San Mateo and Sequoia to start the season before losing to Hillsdale, 27-21, last week.
“They’re very physical,’’ Smith said. “They play hard, they’re disciplined and are coached well. Their coach (Jay Oca) is known in the football community as someone who gives back a lot.’’
Menlo’s defense is growing accustomed to playing against running teams.
“This is a run-heavy league,’’ Smith said. “We’re the only team that spreads you out.’’