By Mitch Stephens
SAN MATEO, Calif. - On a day when Serra High celebrated Polynesian heritage, it was America's "Land of Opportunity" philosophy that carried the host Padres to a resounding 35-14 West Catholic Athletic League victory over Archbishop Mitty-San Jose on Saturday.
Running backs DeLeon Eskridge and Jared Braun took advantage of their continued new roles and leases on football life by combining for 298 yards rushing and three touchdowns as the Padres (6-3, 3-2 WCAL), ranked 14th in the Bay Area by MaxPreps, controlled No. 7 Mitty (6-2, 2-2) from start to finish.
The dynamic and fleet 6-foot-1, 185-pound Eskridge, who sat out last week's 25-13 win over St. Ignatius-San Francisco for disciplinary reasons, looked utterly rejuvenated and much like he did last season with 13 carries for 155 yards including touchdown runs of 43, 25 and 25 yards.
On each TD run Eskridge used his speed to get to the right edge and then cut up field to score with virtual ease.
"I'm definitely happy to be back," Eskridge said. "It's hard to watch from the sideline but I think it was an experience for me to learn and grow. I definitely enjoyed this experience much more, helping our team to victory."
Serra coach Patrick Walsh, whose team under-achieved earlier in the year, believes Eskridge's performance was perhaps the most important in two seasons.
"I think his effort today validates that DeLeon learned the lessons needed to be learned," Walsh said. He needed to step back for a week and the way he played today validates him as an individual and his role on the team. I'm really proud of him for that and taking the first step toward his teammates and for the rest of his life."
Braun took advantage of Eskridge's absence last week and an injury to starting fullback Tiuke Tuipulotu by rushing for 208 yards and three touchdowns against St. Ignatius.
He backed up that effort with another solid outing, pounding inside for 143 yards and 19 carries as the Padres had 385 of their 395 total yards on the ground. Braun, a 6-2, 210-pound junior, has 351 yards in two weeks after only a few meaningless carries in the first six weeks.
"He continues to make us look like the stupidest coaching staff in the country," Walsh mused. "The kid is just a Padre. He never complains, he just does his job and when we finally called upon him he's delivered."
Braun, like Eskridge, might have needed time on the bench to "light a fire in him," Walsh said.
"He was a great JV player last year and during the summer he wasn't quite the player we anticipated," Walsh said. "But we had so many talented returners in the backfield it really didn't matter. It must have mattered to him. He's given us such a much-needed boost."
The Padres also got a big contribution from junior quarterback Cody Jackson, who needed to throw just six times (one completion, 10 yards) but ran the offense beautifully.
The 6-foot, 180-pounder rushed 12 times for 49 yards, including first half touchdowns of 19 and 1 yards as the Padres streaked to a 21-6 lead.
The Monarchs, coming off a resounding 34-20 win over Riordan-San Francisco, closed to 21-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 1-yard run up the middle by 6-foot, 242-pound load Kenny Jackson (16 rushes, 81 yards).
But the Padres responded immediately, going 79 yards in just five plays capped by Eskdridge's first 25-yard TD run. The 2006 second-team All-Metro (San Francisco Chronicle) selection started the drive with a 30-yard burst.
"He's a super back and we just couldn't contain him outside," Jackson said. "We had trouble at the edges all day. When Serra gets out in front and with their ball control they play with a certain swagger."
Said Eskdridge: "I like to run inside, but the line did such a great job blocking on the outside I just broke stuff out there. Everyone did their job."
Following an interception by Sean Sabean, one of three from the Serra secondary (the others came from Matt Calderon and Patrick West), the Padres put it away with a more methodical eight-play 50-yard scoring drive.
In an almost carbon copy of his two previous scores, DeLeon took a short put, sprinted to the right sideline then cut it up field for a 25-yard TD with 3:29 left, making it 35-14.
Unlike earlier in the year, Serra's line blocked effectively on the outside runs. It outplayed a much bigger and stronger Mitty defensive line.
"It's funny, our offensive line was hardly mentioned at the start of the year because we returned so many star players plus they weren't playing really well," Walsh said. "They hung in there, worked hard and now they might just be the strength of our team."
Not only is Tuipulotu, the 2006 WCAL Junior of the Year, out indefinitely with injury, but Serra linebacker J.P. Hurrell, who has committed to Cal, left Saturday's game in the first quarter with a toe injury and never returned.
The defense picked up the slack and allowed just 253 yards against one of the West Bay's top offenses. The secondary was particularly effective as Mitty senior quarterback Elliot Stewart was just 8 of 20 for 100 yards and three interceptions.
He did complete a 23-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Haniger in the first half. Overall though, the Monarchs will need to regroup.
"It's the WCAL, we can't look back," Jackson said. "We have more big games on the horizon and have to gain our momentum back for the CCS playoffs."
Look for more WCAL and California highlights later.