It seemed like a fun idea, billing Friday night’s Week 2 showdown between Serra and Menlo-Atherton with a playful overtone — something along the lines of a 49ers vs. SaberCats vibe.
It makes sense. Not only does the clash between the two Central Coast Section powerhouses feature the son of former San Francisco 49ers defensive back Dana McLemore in Serra quarterback Daylin McLemore, and a former San Jose SaberCats player, coach and broadcaster in M-A’s first-year head coach Steve Papin. But it is also the nightcap of the football doubleheader Levi’s Stadium High School Football Series to be played at the 49ers’ home digs in Santa Clara.
A playful 49ers vs. SaberCats angle wouldn’t be fair to the kids of either program though. And that’s how Serra head coach Patrick Walsh came to sign off on the game being moved from a Saturday afternoon home game at Serra to a Friday night neutral site — because of the kids.
“We had to give that up,” Walsh said. “But I made this decision through the eyes of the kids.”
The mystique for this non-league matchup is based in reality, with each Serra a M-A having won state championships over the past two years. Serra celebrated the CIF Division 2-AA state championship in 2017, prior to what Walsh called a sobering 6-5 overall record in 2018. M-A captured the CIF Division 3-AA title last year.
And while there will certainly be plenty of next-level college prospects on the field Friday at Levi’s Stadium, and even a few who have a shot to play in the NFL someday, for a majority of the Padres and Bears, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime venue.
“A lot of these kids will never have that opportunity, ever,” Papin said. “So, when [Walsh] came to me, I was totally onboard.”
Adding to the game’s real mystique, both teams blew the doors off their respective home fields in their season openers. M-A rolled to a 51-14 win over Bellarmine-SJ. Serra’s victory was perhaps even more impressive, taking down Pittsburg 58-21.
“Serra is just in a different class,” Papin said comparing M-A’s two WCAL opponents to start the season. “And with what they did against Pittsburg — being such a strong program — our eyes are open.”
To add intrigue to the matchup of high-powered offenses, both squads will be supremely difficult to scout. M-A is under the guidance of a new coach in Papin, and has modified its offense extensively after gaining over 4,300 yards in 15 games last season. And while Walsh has been at the helm for Serra the past 19 seasons, this year marks the first year offensive coordinator Darius Bell — in his second year, but being hired late in the offseason prior to his 2018 debut — has really had a chance to implement his full vision.
Bell is boasting a chameleon offense. The Padres might run the pistol one series, the wing-T the next, then they might just come at your with a formation where they line up with the kitchen sink at slot receiver. At the end of the day, Serra has 32 different formations this year, this compared to the 20 formations Bell utilized when he served as the offensive coordinator at Riordan prior to moving to Serra.
One dynamic that has carried over for both teams from 2018 is at wide receiver. Two better San Mateo County receivers on the field at the same time you will not see than in Friday’s matchup between M-A junior Troy Franklin and Serra senior Terence Loville. And the praise coming from both camps is mutual.
“It’s going to be a great matchup between those two,” Bell said. “I can’t wait to see it … because I can honestly say Franklin is the best receiver I’ve seen in high school history.”
Papin raved similarly about Loville.
“He’s a phenomenal talent,” Papin said. “He goes both ways, he’s obviously a matchup problem for any team that faces him … and the thing about that kid is, he’s got heart. He wants to win.”
Friday’s doubleheader kicks off with San Benito taking on Wilcox at 5 p.m. The second game between M-A and Serra is tentatively scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start.