It’s one of those years where, barring any major surprises, one game will stand out as the title bout in the PAL Ocean Division. Burlingame and King’s Academy have separated from the pack as major contenders, and their meeting, set for October 19 at Burlingame, should be the one to determine the league title. Still, with local rivalries and the ever-present chance of something going haywire in a game played between teenagers, there’s always a chance for an upset and drama.
The drop from the Bay Division looks like a brief one so far for the Panthers, as they already have a win over a Bay Division team with last week’s victory over Half Moon Bay, and they nearly took another in a close loss to Sacred Heart Prep. Best of all, their offense is largely led by youth. The defense is an experienced bunch, with seniors as the top four tacklers, headlined by Dylan Neeley (29 tackles, nine for loss, 6.5 sacks) and Noah Lavulo (27 tackles). Lavulo is also the anchor of the offensive line, having already posted 25 pancake blocks, including 10 in a season-opening win over Alvarez.
With Lavulo battling in the trenches, it leaves plenty of room for the young skill players to go to work. Sophomore Lucas Meredith is expertly filling the shoes of his older brother Alec, with 404 yards and seven touchdowns on 78 carries. Curtis Lauti, the main senior at a skill position, has 253 yards on 34 carries, and Youcef Benchohra has 143 on 29.
There was initially a mixture of sophomore Wyatt McGovern and junior Jordan Malashus at quarterback, but Malashus has taken the helm as of late. Burlingame isn’t a team that passes much, but with 35 completions on his 57 passes for 474 yards, Malashus has done more than enough. Lauti has been a receiving option out of the backfield, with seven catches for a team-high 133 yards, and Chase Funkhouser has 74 yards on six receptions, but the rest of the receivers have all been underclassmen. Meredith has six catches for 108, and another sophomore, Taylor Kaufman, has seven for 80 while also serving as the team’s kicker. Malashus’ twin brother Devon has eight catches for 103, giving the Panthers an advantage over most of the run-heavy teams in that when they do elect to pass, they have a multitude of options.
The Fighting Knights have been on a steady rise over the past few years, but so far, this season has been a step back. Hillsdale has been outscored 150-19 in four losses, and while that includes a defeat to Bay Division side Sacred Heart Prep, there’s also a 39-0 loss to Lake Division foe Capuchino.
Head coach Mike Parodi was quite satisfied with his team’s performance in that SHP game considering quality of competition, especially with a team that’s been reduced at times to as little as 21 players due to injuries and eligibility issues. Those numbers are starting to return in the direction of a full team, which will help the team’s two biggest contributors so far, quarterback J.P. Lyssenko and running back Nathan Iskander.
Lyssenko hasn’t put up glamorous stats so far this year, but with constant changes in personnel both on the line and at receiver, Parodi has been impressed with how he’s handled the situation and believes in his potential moving forward. Iskander, nicknamed “Rabbit”, has been a workhorse so far this year, running for a 68-yard touchdown in a season-opening loss to Miramonte and even throwing for a touchdown in a loss to Independence. As for receivers, Quincy Sherman has been dealing with injuries, but sophomore Ben Weiskopf has stepped up thus far.
“After the SHP game, I told our guys that it doesn’t matter whether you enter league play 0-4 or 4-0,” said Parodi. “It’s not just typical coach-speak. I’ve always been around football, growing up with my dad as a coach, and it’s always been the case that good things come if you win your league.”