In high school football, victories are cherished while defeats agonized. It’s how players respond, coaches say, that mark a season.
“Losses happen, and it’s OK to feel pain and suffering because it’s very human,” Serra of San Mateo coach Patrick Walsh said. “You lose a game, you tell the guys, ‘It’s OK, man.’ It’s not always going to be roses throughout an entire season, or even an entire game, and that’ll be true this weekend.”
Two champions from the Sac-Joaquin Section take on powerhouse Bay Area programs for a right to play next weekend in a CIF State Bowl game in Carson. Tonight, Del Oro (12-2) plays Serra (11-2) of the Central Coast Section in the Division I Northern California Regional championship at San Jose City College. On Saturday, Folsom (14-0) braces for De La Salle of Concord (13-0) in the NorCal Open game at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill.
Walsh’s view of handling defeat rings true for three of the teams in these two games. De La Salle has mostly avoided losses with a 39-game winning streak and having beaten California schools in 67 consecutive games.
Serra’s season started with a 21-14 heartbreaking loss to De La Salle. The Padres responded, losing just once the rest of the way. Walsh said his team got better from the De La Salle experience.
After suffering a 41-3 loss of its own to De La Salle, Del Oro regrouped to win 11 in a row. Folsom’s last loss was also to the Spartans in last year’s NorCal Open. Folsom implemented more of a run game this season for offensive balance. Players hit the weight room in the summer with extra vigor. Folsom even tried to schedule De La Salle for an early-season game, just to test itself.
“We know they’re great,” Folsom offensive lineman Cody Creason said of the Spartans. “We honestly have never seen anything like them, how strong they are, how quick. It’s been a motivator for us, in the back of our heads, to play them again. We’re 100-percent confident. We have to be.”
How to deal with De La Salle, then?
“Good luck,” Del Oro coach Casey Taylor said in a light moment. “De La Salle is amazing, ridiculous. They just get on you. It’s a whole different level, and you’ve got to play flawless to keep up with them.”
Teams have been trying to keep pace for nearly 30 years. Since the 1984 season, De La Salle is 333-5-2 against NorCal competition, 34-0 against the Sac-Joaquin Section and 6-0 against the Sacramento region. Since 1991, De La Salle is unbeaten in 250 games against NorCal schools. The Spartans seek their 21st unbeaten season and 10th national No. 1 finish since 1991.
So how to beat the best? Four of those five NorCal losses since 1984 included trick plays or alignments that surprised the Spartans.
In 1984, Skyline of Oakland pulled off a 22-21 victory on a fake field goal and a fake point-after touchdown. In 1989, El Cerrito went from its traditional I-back scheme to the wing-T in the second half in a 14-13 stunner. In 1987, a “fumblerooskie” out of punt formation and a trick play on a two-point conversion produced a 14-13 victory for Monte Vista of Danville.
And in De La Salle’s last NorCal loss, to Pittsburg in the 1991 North Coast Section D-I finals, the Pirates switched offensive and defensive alignments throughout the game, returned an interception for a score and made plays on special teams for a 34-27 triumph.
Folsom isn’t going to ditch its spread formation that features record-breaking quarterback Jake Browning (5,393 passing yards, 74 touchdown passes), but it will add some wrinkles.
“We can’t have five receivers and let De La Salle defensive linemen just pin their ears back and come at us,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “We added things since we lost to them. It wasn’t fun to watch that film, but we did to learn. And (co-coach) Troy Taylor has been coming up with offensive ideas ever since.”
Said Browning of the rematch: “We’ll come out swinging.”
A longtime De La Salle assistant coach and a former player, Justin Alumbaugh took over the De La Salle program last winter when Bob Ladouceur stepped aside after going 399-25-2. Ladouceur didn’t go far. He coaches the De La Salle defensive linemen.
“People ask, ‘Oh man, do you want a legend looking over your shoulder,’” Alumbaugh said. “They don’t realize how close our relationship is. It’s incredible to have him here. He looks 10 years younger. He used to show up to games looking tired. Now he shows up, ‘Oh yeah! Let’s go!’ In practice, Lad floats around, tells a receiver he’s breaking a route too short, or talking to another player. It’s his dream.
“And let’s not pull punches. My job is to uphold the tradition.”
CIF NORCAL REGIONAL GAMES
• Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
• At Diablo Valley College
• Today, 7:30 p.m.
• At San Jose City College