Daily Journal File Photo
South City lineman Terrell Townsend is the burgeoning superstar of a Warriors team looking to get back to the top of the Ocean Division under new head coach Jay Oca.
The South City Warriors are looking for a little more of the magic they found against archrival El Camino last season. Well, maybe a lot more.
On the verge of finishing the season on an abysmal losing streak, Warriors free safety Mauricio Mabutas made some magic.
With the Warriors leading 29-28 late in the fourth quarter, Mabutas chased down Colts star running back Brandon Gip on a sprint for the end zone. Mabutas tackled Gip at the 2-yard line. Then South City stood its ground with a goal-line stand which culminated in a missed El Camino field goal in the waning seconds to give the Warriors the win.
The victory not only saw South City take home the coveted Bell trophy, it snapped a seven-game losing streak. It also saw outgoing head coach Frank Moro finish his 30-plus coaching career at South City deservedly with an emotional and wildly celebrated win.
This season, first-year head coach Jay Oca takes the reins for South City. Having served as Moro’s offensive coordinator from 2008-13, Oca is a signpost of South City’s intentions to make a smooth transition into a new era. And with longtime defensive coordinator Kolone Pua returning as well, the Warriors certainly seem intent on returning to the mountain top, as they did with a 2012 Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division championship.
“Our belief is we’re going to win championships through our defense,” Oca said. “And that’s our goal, is that we can live up to the perception that everybody has of our defense — aggressive and fast.”
The Warriors defense is built around a pair of promising linemen in senior defensive tackle Lofi Malepeai and junior end Tavai Tuitasi.
“Our defensive line is very, very tough,” Oca said. “They get off the football really aggressive. They’re fast. They have good technique. And they’re just animals.”
With expectations riding high last season, Malepeai injured his knee and missed a majority of the season. The injury is entirely behind him now though, according to Oca.
Running a base 4-3 and 4-4 defense, the corps of linebackers is build around returning senior Cesar Torres and newcomers junior Peter Lopez and sophomore Alejandro Palomino. And, oh yeah, the magic of Mabutas is returning to the secondary for his senior season.
“Hopefully he continues that magic against [El Camino],” Oca said.
On the other side of the ball, Oca will continue to call the plays out of the fly offense.
“I love the fly offense,” he said. “I have faith in it. It’s taken a lot of teams pretty far and I think we’re successful in it. We have the athletes that are able to run the fly. And we have the coaches that understand the concept.”
Senior quarterback Alex Benavides is slated to take over the first-string job after serving as backup to graduated Maligi Maluia last season. With the Warriors reeling in the upper PAL Bay Division amid a winless league season in 2013, Benavides was given a start in the penultimate week of Bay Division play against Menlo. According to Oca, Benavides suffered a shoulder injury in pregame warm-ups but still managed to play three quarters.
It wasn’t until after the game the quarterback was diagnosed with a fractured collarbone of the non-throwing shoulder.
“He’s just a football player,” Oca said. “He gives us everything he has. He’s able to execute our offensive plays and run our offense to a T. The kids respond to him and they follow him, and that’s kind of what you need as a leader.”
The burgeoning offensive superstar, however, looks to be senior left tackle Terrell Townsend, as the 6-4, 240-pound team captain enters his third year on varsity. He played guard the previous two seasons, but has slimmed down and is looking to widen the wing to allow South City’s patented mix of running backs to effectively maneuver.
“He’s actually gotten leaner,” Oca said. “He’s gotten a little more athletic. He’s gotten faster and more explosive than last year. So, moving him out there gives us a chance to do more of our plays to the outside.”
Second-year varsity running back Torres will carry a lot of the load in a run-intensive attack. Lopez and Kolton Pua — one of Kolone Pua’s five children — are also expected to gets plenty of reps out of the backfield.
“[Kolone Pua] has two sons on varsity and one on J.V.,” Oca said. “So, this is a family affair. He has four boys and one girl, and she’s probably going to be our cheerleader when she gets over here.”
With South City returning to the PAL Ocean Division this season, its biggest challenge may be getting its home Clifford Field up and running for its Oct. 12 home opener against Capuchino. With monies allotted by the South San Francisco Unified School District to resurface the football fields at El Camino and South City, the latter began undergoing the metamorphosis from natural grass to artificial turf immediately following last season.
The remodel is expected to be ongoing even after the Oct. 12 deadline. However, Oca said the field is expected to be playable by then, and the school will rent portable light standards to ensure the game be played at night.
“We want to make it a night game for the nostalgia,” Oca said.
If construction is not completed by Oct. 12, the game will likely be relocated to Capuchino as a day game, according to Oca.
“I’m pretty optimistic [the home opener] is going to happen,” Oca said.
Although he started as varsity assistant coach in 2008, Oca has been with the South City football program since 2002. He served as the frosh-soph head coach from 2002-07. In fact, he was handpicked by Moro after the two met by chance while Oca was working as a substitute teacher at Alta Loma Middle School.
Talk about magic, it was Oca’s first week working as a substitute teacher, and while on assignment at Alta Loma for exactly one day, he told Moro about his interest in coaching and having recently volunteered at the South San Francisco Boys & Girls Club. About a month and a half later, Oca got a telephone call from Moro with a job offer for an open coaching position with the South City program.
Oca went on to earn his teaching credential from San Francisco State and was hired as a fulltime physical education teacher at South City two years later.
“If it wasn’t for that day that I substituted, I never would have met Moro, and I never would have been a teacher here,” Oca said. “I would have never been here. So, I really thank Moro for all the help and support he’s given.”