Inderkum High School coach Terry Stark thought he was going to have one of the best backfields in the Sac-Joaquin Section this season with tough and speedy D.J. Myart, Josh Montes and Eric Walters all returning after stellar 2011 seasons.
The trio compiled 2,623 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns as juniors, operating from Stark's always-potent wing-T.
"Our backfield was loaded," Stark said. "They were all lightning fast."
But Myart was lost to a knee injury just before the start of the season; and then Montes went down with a torn tendon in his left foot a few weeks later.
Though Montes, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, recently returned and has had some good games, he still isn't 100 percent.
With Myart and Montes sidelined, Walters became the workhorse for several weeks, including a 266-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 34-28 win over Terra Nova of Pacifica on Sept. 28.
But he, too, was slowed by a foot injury against Woodland on Oct. 12, then last week was removed from the team by Stark for violating team rules.
Stark was forced to promote sophomore Austin Thurmond from the junior varsity to bolster Montes and junior Terence White.
The injury carousel has allowed junior quarterback C.J. Spencer to showcase his passing skills (1,400 yards, 11 touchdowns) more than anticipated. Through adversity, the Tigers have grown closer despite watching their 27-game Tri-County Conference winning streak end with a 49-42 loss to Yuba City in the Oct. 5 opener, and later the end of their five-year reign as league champions.
Despite the travails, No. 6-seeded Inderkum (8-2) finds itself in a pretty good position for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs as it prepares to host No. 11 Manteca (6-4) on Friday.
Because of a change in enrollment, the Tigers are no longer in a loaded Division II, where they lost last season in the second round to Folsom.
Inderkum is in Division III, which is wide open now that two-time defending section champion Del Oro is in D-II and highly touted Placer is in D-IV.
While Oakdale remains the favorite to play in a third consecutive D-III section title game, there is no other clear favorite to reach the final in the 16-team field.
Inderkum, on the opposite side of the bracket to top-seeded Oakdale, is making its seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
The Tigers have reached the D-III final twice before, falling 27-21 in overtime to Casa Roble in 2008 and 16-12 to Del Campo in 2009, a rain-drenched game that had to be halted temporarily because of a lightning storm.
Dragons feel at home With its 58-21 Bell Game win over McClatchy last week, Sac High earned what coach Paul Doherty says will be the school's first on-campus home playoff football game.
The seventh-seeded Dragons (8-2) will play at 1 p.m. Saturday against No. 10 El Camino (7-3) in a D-III opener.
This also is the resurgent Dragons' fifth playoff appearance in the past six seasons, but they are still looking for their first section playoff win, despite a relatively rich football history dating back decades (section playoffs didn't start until 1971).
The Dragons lost in 2007 and 2009 in the first round at Granite Bay. They also lost road playoff openers to Casa Roble in 2010 and Del Oro in 2011, both in D-III.
Sac High, which opened in 1856 and has been at its current Oak Park location since 1924, used to call Hughes Stadium home before moving games to its campus several years ago to build school spirit and to save money.