The Sac-Joaquin Section invited 16 teams to the Division I football playoffs, and the Delta River League decided to take over the party.
The four remaining programs in the large-school semifinals add an emphatic argument as to the section’s top league.
In the state’s second-largest section, it’s rare for four teams from one conference to reach the postseason, never mind go a combined 8-0 in the first two rounds to seize the bracket.
The Bee’s No. 1 team and Cal-Hi state No. 3, Folsom, leads the pack, having earlier beaten the other three DRL teams handily. In Friday’s semifinals, Folsom plays Jesuit and Pleasant Grove takes on Oak Ridge for a trip to the championship game at Sacramento State.
“The league has made everyone better, and it’s the best in Northern California,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said.
A closer look at each program:
• Folsom (12-0) – The Bulldogs have been a power off and on since finishing 1962 ranked No. 1 in Northern California. They won the CIF State D-II title in 2010 and had a perfect season derailed last year by national power De La Salle of Concord in the NorCal Open game.
Folsom is 26-1 the past two seasons behind junior quarterback Jake Browning, who passed for a state-record 5,248 yards and a NorCal-record 63 touchdowns in 2012, and now has a state-record 68 TDs this season to go with 4,710 yards. Folsom has two 1,000-yard receivers, Will McClure (1,397 yards, 22 TDs) and Josiah Deguara (1,131 yards, 15 TDs), with Troy Knox (900 yards, 10 TDs) ready to join them. The Bulldogs average 147.7 rushing yards, and the defense played big in wins over Jesuit (56-14) and Oak Ridge (35-0) and early against Pleasant Grove (63-39 after Folsom led 35-12 at the half).
• Oak Ridge (11-1) – Since the school opened in 1980, the Trojans have won four D-II section titles (1998-2004) and reached the D-I final last season. The coach for the 1998 unbeaten team was Mark Watson, the program’s quarterback coach in recent years. He has groomed sophomore Ian Book (2,271 yards, 30 TDs, four interceptions). Oak Ridge is balanced under coach Eric Cavaliere, averaging 157.4 rushing yards, and the defense has second-half shutouts in the past three games behind linebackers James Portilla, Thomas Mahlman and Colton Giorgi. Oak Ridge beat Pleasant Grove 28-14 on Nov. 1 after the score was tied 7-7 at the half.
• Pleasant Grove (10-2) – The school, not even 10 years old, has one D-I championship in two title game appearances under the only varsity head coach the program has known, Joe Cattolico. Pleasant Grove plays an old-school brand with runs between the tackles, featuring Ian Broom (42 carries for 241 yards and three TDs to help beat Stagg of Stockton 42-28 last week). Dre Terrell, one of the state’s top all-around players, stars at quarterback, cornerback and on special teams.
• Jesuit (9-3) – The Marauders, celebrating 50 years this fall, have smoothly adjusted to the veer run offense under second-year coach Marlon Blanton, a former De La Salle player and assistant coach. Jesuit won a playoff game this season for the first time in 10 seasons, though the program won section titles in 1995 and 2002. Jesuit has a prolific backfield with quarterback Jason Elenberger (1,494 passing yards with 17 TDs, 582 rushing yards with nine scores) and running backs Ben Parietti (1,228 yards, 17 TDs) and Beau Bisharat (814 yards, 10 TDs).