Earlier this season, Paul Doherty was hustling through Sacramento High School’s football locker room, scooping up papers and ankle tape, when the coach paused for reflection.
“We’ve come a long way,” Doherty said then. “One of these days, we’ll have our breakthrough. We’re getting closer.”
The breakthrough came Saturday afternoon in Oak Park.
After four successive one-and-out playoff appearances and five total since 1992, the Dragons finally celebrated a postseason victory. On the strength of big plays, a quarterback playing hurt and a late defensive stand inside the 10-yard line, Sacramento held off Benicia 42-35 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III opener.
Caden Voges, despite playing with a broken non-throwing hand, passed for 256 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for one score. Voges hit Damen Wheeler eight times for 161 yards, including a touchdown with a little more than a minute to play. Dragons linebacker Lonny Powell applied continuous pressure in the backfield, and defensive back Kyron Basped broke up a pass in the corner of the end zone with 20 seconds left to ice it.
“Thrilled to get over the hump,” Doherty said Monday. “I don’t feel we played our best game collectively, and that will be the challenge Saturday.”
The Dragons (9-2) have won six consecutive games – last losing to D-II title contender Burbank 34-32 – and now prepare to host defending section and NorCal D-II champion Oakdale. The home victory would give the Dragons a school-record 10th win.
Scores of alumni attendedSaturday’s game, some wearing old block “S” letterman’s jackets, and plan to again this Saturday.
The section introduced playoff games in 1972, just after the Sac High glory days of the 1960s. Sacramento fielded good teams throughout the 1970s under late coach Dave Hotell, but only the league champion advanced in that era. The Dragons endured hard times in the 1980s, including losing streaks of 28 and 22 games, and reached the playoffs for the first time in 1992 under Bee Coach of the Year Tom Rutten.
Nice start to bad ending – Napa had the right approach against Oak Ridge in a D-I contest Friday in El Dorado Hills: Keep the prolific Trojans offense off the field as much as possible and take the crowd out of it early.
Napa had the ball all 12 minutes of the first quarter, beginning the game with a 23-play drive that stretched into the second. The Indians converted three times on fourth down and scored on a Jack Good’s 1-yard plunge. But it was all Oak Ridge from there as the Trojans rolled 31-7.
Ian Book tossed two of his three touchdown passes to Trent Buenzli, Josh Wellman ran for 127 yards and a score, and Thomas Mahlman had 17 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception.
League power – Which is the best league in the area? The playoffs reveal a nice race: The Delta River went 4-0 in eliminating section south teams in D-I play with Folsom beating Lincoln-Stockton 50-13, Jesuit topping Merced 49-39, Pleasant Grove downing Modesto 48-12 and Oak Ridge over Napa.
The Delta Valley went 3-0 against South teams: Franklin over Pitman of Turlock 44-27, Grant over Downey 52-14 and Elk Grove downing Atwater 42-7. The Capital Valley went 3-0 with Rio Linda beating Antelope 34-0, Christian Brothers defeating Pacheco of Los Banos 54-20 and Casa Roble bouncing Rosemont 41-23. The Pioneer Valley went 3-1 as Placer beat Capital Christian 34-14, Center topped Modesto Christian 34-0, Colfax outlasted Sierra of Manteca 42-37 and Lincoln lost 49-19 to Inderkum.
Blowout city – While D-III top seed American Canyon had a difficult time against No. 16 El Dorado before pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 42-26 win, D-IV top seed Central Catholic of Modesto rolled. The defending section and small-school state-champion Raiders buried Marysville 75-0, averaging 16 yards a rush.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD and on Preps Plus Insiders on sacbee.com/preps for Round II playoff video analysis.