Luke Baker shines in San Ramon Valley’s dominant win in season opener

San Ramon Valley made a statement in its season opener, stomping St. Ignatius 42-14.

SAN FRANCISCO – San Ramon Valley picked up where it left off in last year’s 2-A championship game this season.

Never mind that the Wolves have moved up to the North Coast Section’s Division I and are facing a tougher schedule.

San Ramon Valley, led by senior quarterback Luke Baker, came out firing on all cylinders, defeating St. Ignatius 42-14 at the West Catholic school’s home in San Francisco.

“It felt great,” Baker, who couldn’t stop smiling after the victory, said. “We weren’t overly confident coming into this game… It feels good to be back out on the football field. “I just feel like it’s where I’m supposed to be.”

After falling short in overtime in last year’s title game, the Wolves returned with a vengeance. With a large portion of last year’s team returning, including standout linebacker Marco Jones, junior lineman Julian Cambra, receiver Zack Dodson, and running back Jon Ben Pau Mendoza, San Ramon Valley appears poised to make a name for themselves in their new division.

“Obviously, [it’s] going to be more difficult now that we’re in D-I, but I feel like it’s for the best,” Baker said. “We would’ve won D-II, and it just feels better to say you won D-I versus D-II, so we’re definitely fired up for the challenge.”

The Wolves’ roster continuity and team leadership helped them set the right tone to begin the season. They played hard, fast, and physical, just as first-year St. Ignatius coach Lenny Vandermade had expected.

“When you play against a guy like [Baker], you have to be on your game and not make little mistakes because he’s the type of guy who makes you pay,” Vandermade explained.

But St. Ignatius has yet to develop a defensive identity, and the Wildcats have paid the price.

Baker completed 19 of 25 passes for 307 yards, 173 yards more than St. Ignatius’ two quarterbacks combined.

“He’s the best,” said SRV coach Aaron Becker. “He’s almost like I’m out there on the field, and if I signal him a play, he knows exactly why, and he’s able to just get to his route so fast and attack a defense, it’s pretty great.”

Baker scored the game’s first touchdown on a one-yard run. Later in the first quarter, senior Pierce St. Geme broke several tackles on his way to a 34-yard touchdown to tie the game at seven.

But it was all Wolves after that, as they scored 21 unanswered points to end the first half. Mitch Bruno sacked Wildcats quarterback Soren Hummel for a nine-yard loss at the end of the first half, giving them a crucial stop. After failing to convert a fourth-and-19, St. Ignatius ended the quarter with a turnover on downs.

The Wolves pounced on the Wildcats early in the third quarter, with Baker finding Owen Scott for a 65-yard touchdown reception 14 seconds in to give the visitors a 35-7 lead. Scott finished with 133 yards on eight receptions, numbers that made Baker laugh.

“Owen Scott is a very talented receiver, but we don’t need to hype him up too much so that the defense starts covering him more,” Baker joked.

St. Ignatius showed little life in the second half until senior running back Daniel Jung ran the ball into the end zone for a five-yard gain at the end. In an otherwise disappointing night, the touchdown gave the home crowd something to cheer about.

“We need to be better collectively in all three phases,” said Vandermade, who came to St. Ignatius after coaching for ten years at USC, with stops at Southern California high school powerhouses in between. “This was a team loss; no single phase cost us the game.” So now we have to go back and be better, watch the film, and simply improve.”

Baker believes that this is just the start of what should be a memorable season for San Ramon Valley.

“We came into this game expecting this, so we’re not going to get too cocky, overconfident,” he explained. “It was definitely a good first win, and we’re just going to build on it.”

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