Vista del Lago is a young football team riding an 11-game winning streak into Saturday night's Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff game against Inderkum.
But despite its success, the Eagles have an unsung defense that is led by three seniors: Linemen Chris "Bear" Grunsky and Evan Ewey, and linebacker Nick Rametta. Each has had big seasons for the Eagles (11-1), who will try to extend their season against the Tigers (10-2).
Vista belted Lincoln 44-0 in a playoff opener, including Grunsky blocking a punt for a touchdown, and the Eagles used stops to stall El Camino last Friday, scoring 21 fourth-quarter points for a 35-31 victory.
The seniors have rubbed off on others such as Brandon Kim and junior J.T. Winkler. Kim blocked a punt to set up a score, and Winkler returned an interception for a touchdown to turn momentum in the fourth in the win over El Camino.
"Our defensive leaders like Nick and Evan and 'Bear' they've carried us," Vista coach Chris Jones said.
Vista has been led offensively by sophomore quarterback Matt Jimison (2,306 passing yards, 35 touchdowns), junior running back Josh Pfeffer (979 rushing yards, 15 scores) and sophomore receiver Brad Rittenhouse (812, 13). Jones went with Jimison after the season-opening loss to Oak Ridge, saying the Eagles have been "in a different gear ever since."
"We play a ton of young guys, and they're pretty good," Jones said.
Next to shine The next running back to shine at Inderkum is Terence White. Because of injuries and player discipline, the junior is getting more playing time and more carries. White rushed for 190 yards and four touchdowns (and had two interceptions) in a 69-47 shootout win at then-10-1 Sierra-Manteca in a D-III quarterfinal. He carried seven or fewer times six times this season.
Finally back to full health is halfback Josh Montes. He ran for 155 yards against Sierra.
Movin' on up After spending last season on the scout team, Nick Gordon is a starting linebacker who led the Delta River League in tackles with 156. He has 173 for the season and averages 14 tackles a game.
The senior teams with defensive end Zack Claiborne (20 1/2 sacks) for a formidable 1-2 Oak Ridge (11-1) punch that faces Burbank (12-0) on Saturday afternoon in a Division I semifinal.
"Nick just finds a way to make plays, very slippery," Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. "We tell our young guys who aren't starters, 'What are you doing to get better? Look at Nick Gordon. He didn't play much last year, but he kept working, and guess what? He got better.' "
A 1,000-yard flashback Burbank is the first area Division I team to produce three 1,000-yard runners in a 10-game regular season in Isaiah Williams, Calvin Green and Ernest Jenkins.
The first area team to achieve the feat was Mira Loma in 1995 with running backs Kam Davis, Rob Coleman and Torre Watson each rushing for more than 1,000 yards during an 8-2 season. The Matadors, who were coached then by Terry Stark, now the coach at Inderkum, did it twice.
In 1996, the Matadors did it again in an 11-game season with Davis, Tony Brown and O.J. Brown all rushing for more than 1,250 yards.
Green with envy Franklin's Marcus Green and Robert Sanders have had big defensive seasons in the secondary and on special teams for the Wildcats, who have a program-best 12-0 record and are in the D-I semifinals for the first time.
"They've been great," Wildcats coach Mike Johnson said. "They're all over the place."
Sanders and Green will have their hands full with an offense they haven't encountered in Granite Bay and its fly sweep tonight in a D-I semifinal. The Grizzlies are the defending champion riding an eight-game winning streak.