SAN MATEO — There was a time when Serra could not beat St. Francis.
For 35 games over 34 years starting in the early 1970s, this series between the West Catholic Athletic League schools was dominated by the program from Mountain View.
That era is obviously long gone, a faded memory as Serra has ascended to the top under longtime coach Patrick Walsh.
Now the undisputed No. 1 team in Northern California, the San Mateo powerhouse did nothing to tarnish the prestigious label on Saturday as the Padres built a four-touchdown halftime advantage and went on to a 45-17 victory over St. Francis in a game that had a running clock for the entire fourth quarter.
Two years ago in this same stadium, St. Francis dominated the home team to capture the league championship as its running back ran for 344 yards in 45 carries.
Saturday, St. Francis had one first down in the first half, courtesy of an early trick pass play that covered 69 yards and could have led to a tying touchdown.
Instead, despite having the ball inside Serra’s 5, St. Francis settled for a short field goal.
The tone was set: Serra was too strong on defense and too effective on offense, the normally balanced Padres taking to the air as offensive coordinator Darius Fautua Bell elected to throw the ball rather than run between the tackles.
The strategy worked like a charm.
Quarterback Maealiuaki Smith had his best day of the season, passing for 321 yards and two touchdowns. The senior also scored on two sneaks.
“Offensively, I think Coach Bell had a great game plan,” Walsh said. “We’ve struggled moving the ball against these guys year in and year out. There is a ton of history between us, obviously. We wanted to come out and establish the passing game. That’s different for us. It’s usually the other way around.
“I think Coach Bell did a great job of studying some things historically that gave us trouble and maybe some things that he saw with Maealiuaki and our receivers who are getting better week in and week out. I thought those guys did a great job executing.”
Serra (5-0, 2-0) scored on its first series, marching 79 yards in 10 plays to take an 8-0 lead.
Smith completed four passes on the drive for 55 yards and Nano Latu scored the TD from 4 yards out and then ran in the two-point conversion.
St. Francis (2-3, 1-1) tried to answer when running back Kingston Keanaaina caught a lateral near the sideline and fired a deep pass to Joey Paulson, who was wide open. The receiver caught the ball, turned and ran until he was brought down four yards from the end zone.
Keanaaina carried three times for three yards, the Padres getting more fired up with each stop.
The Lancers lined up to go for a touchdown that could have given them a huge momentum-boost but a false start moved the ball back five yards.
Christopher Han came in and kicked a 23-yard field goal to cut the margin to 7-3.
“That’s a good football team that we just played,” St. Francis coach Greg Calcagno said. “They’re the No. 1 team in Northern California for a reason. They’ve earned it. They do a great job. Coach (Steven) Monsef does a fantastic job with the defense and they’re obviously very, very dynamic on offense as well.
“Those guys are well-coached. Great kids. Play their tails off. That’s a pretty good combination right now for the Padres.”
Serra finished its scoring when Smith connected with tight end Cole Harrison for a 70-yard touchdown that made it 45-10 with 2:31 left in the third quarter. Harrison caught seven passes for 187 yards.
“That was good to end that game off like that,” said Smith, who completed 19 of 26 passes.
When St. Francis didn’t score to end the third period, keeping the margin 35 points, the entire fourth quarter was played with a running.
Serra also got a 1-yard TD reception in front of the pylon from Braden Agosta and an 8-yard TD run from Brooks Trimmer.
The victory was the Padres’ 14th in the past 22 games against St. Francis, including their 2006 victory that ended more than three decades of winless games against the Lancers.
“There’s been a long, painful history with Serra High School and St. Francis,” said Walsh, who has coached the Padres since 2000. “Very, very painful. When I got here, I inherited a 28-year losing streak. Did my part to run it up to 34 years and 35 times. It’s difficult.
“Only a couple of years ago, they rushed for 370 yards against us. It ebbs and flows. They’re a young team. They’re going to be great. I’ve been in those positions before. But Coach Calcagno does an amazing job. It’s always a good game.”