The team walkthrough was in the hotel parking lot, barely two miles from the game venue.
Del Oro High School football players simulated blocking schemes and formations, decked in dress slacks, shirts and ties worthy of the prom under their white jerseys, and bearing grim game faces.
“Look at these guys,” remarked Jason Harper of nationally renowned Character Combine, and also a motivational speaker for the Golden Eagles. “When they pull their helmets or buckets off you have an old fashioned, blue-collar group that works hard and works together. Hard to beat that.”
Hours later, when it really mattered, Del Oro’s effort was there if the desired results were not. The Golden Eagles succumbed to the speed and ferocity of a Bakersfield outfit that looked the part and then some. The storied Drillers stretched a close game into a rout, prevailing 56-26 in the CIF State Division I championship game at the StubHub Center.
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In short, old-school grit and tenacity ran headlong into a new-generation, blur-quick quarterback who runs the rarely seen triple option to maddening perfection. Asauni Rufus, headed to Nevada on scholarship, zig, zagged and generally zapped defenders wherever he so desired as the most explosive athlete the Golden Eagles have encountered all season. If Rufus didn’t keep the ball, he pitched to any number of burners or bruisers who gobbled up first downs. The Drillers rushed for 324 yards.
Rufus rushed for 184 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, and teammate Kevin Hayes punctuated matters with a late 89-yard interception return for a score as the Drillers of the Central Section rejoiced the program’s first state title since winning six in the 1920s.
And so Del Oro’s magical season came to a humbling close, a campaign sandwiched by losses to programs of unparalleled tradition. The last setback was in September, a 41-3 decision to national powerhouse De La Salle that served as a wakeup call to get better, and Del Oro did. The Golden Eagles (13-3) peeled off a 12-game winning streak that led to the Drillers (13-2), the winningest program in state history with 749 victories.
Del Oro made a track meet of it early, and the Golden Eagles competed to the end, including a sack by Brandon Johnson of Rufus in the end zone for a safety that cut it to 42-26 with 7:49 to play. Dylan Kainraith scored on runs of 11 and 1 yards to tie it at 14, and fellow Golden Eagles senior Mason Humes drilled a 29-yard field goal for a 28-17 game at the half.
Kainrath, he of the knee brace, cast on his left hand and more bumps, bruises and gouge marks than he can count, finished with 198 rushing yards and three touchdowns in joining Bryce Pratt as the only Del Oro backs to eclipse 2,000 yards in a single season.
By any measure, Del Oro had a banner season in becoming the region’s first team to make two CIF State Bowl trips (also in 2011). The Golden Eagles won the Sierra Foothill League, rallied to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship over Elk Grove and topped Serra of San Mateo last week in the NorCal Regional D-I game.
“Football’s a funny game,” Del Oro defensive coordinator Steve Birch said in sizing up the season. “There’s an amazingly thin line. After that De La Salle loss, what if we don’t come back and beat Grant (in double overtime on a Humes kick)? I don’t know what happens. We’ve had a great season with a great group.”
CIF STATE DIVISION I CHAMPIONSHIP
Bakersfield 56, Del Oro 26
B— Reddick 3 run (Olivas kick)
DO—Kainrath 11 run (Humes kick)
B—Hill 15 pass from Rufus (Olivas kick)
DO—Kainrath 1 run (Humes kick)
B—Rufus 6 run (Olivas kick)
B—Rufus 21 run (Olivas kick)
DO—FG 29 Humes
B—Reddick 47 run (Humes kick)
B—Vickers 1 run (Olivas kick)
DO—Kainrath 1 run (Humes kick)
DO–Safety, Johnson sacked Rufus in end zone
B—Grant 1 run (Olivas kick)
B—Hayes 89 interception return (Olivas kick)