The Serra Padres have already started countering the Valley Christian’s mighty defense.
For Halloween, Serra’s head football coach Patrick Walsh donned a spot-on Mike Ditka costume for Thursday’s practice, the Hall of Fame coach of the 1985 Chicago Bears from where Valley Christian’s defense is derived.
Walsh is candid about Serra needing every weapon at its disposal in going up against Valley Christian — the Daily Journal Game of the Week kicks off Saturday at Freitas Field at 2 p.m. — as the showdown between the two unbeaten teams will essentially decide the West Catholic Athletic League title.
“They have a very disciplined defense,” Walsh said. “And that’s the mark of a great Valley Christian team.”
The Valley Christian Warriors are a modern success story in utilizing the 46 defense originated by the 1985 Chicago Bears, allowing just 45 cumulative points through eight games this season, including just 20 points through five wins in WCAL play.
The Warriors’ standout defensive ends, led by senior Anthony Madrigal, loom large in freeing up sophomore linebacker Will Cuddie, a 5-9, 190-pound first-year varsity star-in-the-making who leads Valley Christian with 73 tackles and six sacks.
“The base concept is to cover all the linemen and let a great player like that run around,” Walsh said.
And the Padres will have to go it without their best weapon in an offense averaging 41.9 points per game this season, senior quarterback Daylin McLemore, who suffered a broken collarbone in last week’s 35-7 win over Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Sophomore quarterback Dom Lampkin is slated to make his first varsity start for Serra Saturday. At 5-11, 170 pounds, Lampkin made every start last season for the junior-varsity team. Now, he will get thrown right into the fire, facing off against the most effective defense in the WCAL.
“We can’t change the tiger’s stripes at this point,” Walsh said of maintaining the approach in the option offense. “But there are some things we can change to keep the pressure off Dom. … But we’ll essentially stay the same. … Basically everyone has to get better to fill in for the team with Daylin being out.”
With McLemore leading the Padres in rushing this season, the backfield quartet of Nate Sanchez, Vince Poni, Jackson Lataimua and Hassan Mahasin will be key. In addition to Lampkin, Mahasin also adds to the sophomore contingent that will look to contend with Valley’s sophomore linebacker Cuddie.
Mahasin is something of a self-proclaimed weapon, whose name on Serra’s MaxPreps.com roster includes his nickname “the missil3,” as in the missile, a moniker that was bestowed upon him during his days with the Pop Warner Tiny-Mite Pacifica Tigersharks.
Mahasin attended a recent Valley Christian game to witness firsthand Serra’s most revered WCAL competition. The sophomore was certainly impressed, and said he expects that same fast tempo to show up Saturday.
“Like they play every other team,” Mahasin said. “They play man, they blitz — they play hard.”
The Warriors have a dynamic three-headed monster on offense, with running backs Isaiah McElvane and Chase Laubach, and quarterback Cory Taylor. McElvane, a 6-1, senior, is the bull-like rushing leader with 692 yards on 105 carries. Laubach, a 5-8 junior, isn’t far behind that total as a big-play back, totaling 672 yards on 75 carries while averaging nine yards per carry.
“They’re two solid backs,” Mahasin said. “They run hard and fight for yards.”
Taylor, the senior quarterback, is a high-percentage equalizer on the verge of surpassing 1,000 passing yards on the season. He is 52-of-81 passing, a 64.2 completion percentage, for 977 yards and 11 touchdowns, with his favorite target, 6-1 freshman wide receiver Jurrion Dickey, having caught five of those TDs.
“They’re a total team,” Walsh said.
Valley Christian is no stranger to contending for a WCAL crown but hasn’t won the title outright since 2010. The Warriors also won co-championships in 2014 and ’16, sharing both with Serra, and have finished each of the past three seasons with a 6-1 record in WCAL play.
Evaluating Valley Christian’s 2019 success, based on strength of schedule, is tricky business. The San Francisco Chronicle ranks the Warriors No. 2 in their Top 25, with Serra No. 3. MaxPreps.com ranks Serra the No. 1 team in the Central Coast Section, with Valley Christian ranked No. 2.
Walsh minced no words in cutting through the conjecture, stating outright that Valley Christian is legit.
“Absolutely,” Walsh said. “Of course, the record speaks for itself. … Physically, it’s like Bon Jovi, it’s all the same, only the names will change.”