The nine-hour bus ride to San Diego didn’t bother them, nor did the soft sands and soothing surf of the Pacific Ocean distract the thought process of a small-school football team harboring gigantic championship hopes.
East Nicolaus High School players and coaches rather enjoyed the 530-mile trek to Southern California, the race into the water on Friday afternoon, and especially competing for the CIF State Division VI championship on Saturday night.
Steven Brown hit Nolan Goyet for a two-yard touchdown pass, then scored on a 13-yard quarterback keeper with under a minute to play, and a stellar defensive effort that included a safety and two interceptions by Eddie Herrera keyed a historic 16-6 victory over Coronado.
The Spartans (13-2) won their 11th consecutive game and became the first program in Northern Section history to win a state football banner. Not bad for a school of 287, nestled in a Sutter County burg where agriculture and athletics are mutual sources of civic pride.
Rain during the trophy presentation didn’t dampen the spirits of this group. Coach Travis Barker hoisted the trophy, then handed it to players, and then nearly broke down.
He grew up in East Nicolaus and was a linebacker-fullback for the school’s first North Section title team in 1991, under famed coach Geoff Wahl. His dream was to play for the Spartans, and then coach them, and it’s happened. Barker started coaching East Nic in 1998 and became the varsity head coach two years ago.
“So proud of these kids, what they’ve done, what it means to our community,” Barker said after the game.
The school is already planning a parade in East Nicolaus.
Central Catholic 56, San Marino 21 – It could have been 36 degrees with sideways wind and rain, and Roger Canepa wasn’t going to gear up.
The longtime Central Catholic coach prefers the short-sleeve route, and his frantic sideline pacing had him in a sweaty lather. Canepa didn’t ease up until it was over, when the Raiders of Modesto polished off a Titans team that came in at 15-0 in the CIF State Small-School Open Division Championship at Sacramento State to win their fourth successive title, the previous three coming in Division IV.
Only large-school national power De La Salle of Concord has won as many successive state championships as Central Catholic, which opened in 1966 and started fielding powerhouse teams in the early 1970s. It looked the part of an elite outfit in its first visit to Hornet Stadium, amassing 418 yards, including 216 rushing yards and two touchdowns by Fresno State-bound running back Justin Rice.
All of this from a school of small enrollment, facing one of 1,100 from Los Angeles County. San Marino coach Mark Hobbie snapped after his team allowed a second-quarter touchdown, “I wish I had the best team money can buy in Modesto!”
Canepa dismissed any such talk of recruiting or being a pipeline for talent in a city not otherwise known for football excellence outside Central Catholic.
“It’s amazing that a school of 360 students comes to work every day and wins four state titles in a row,” Canepa said. “It’s special. We showed so much heart.”
Hunter Petlansky passed for two touchdowns and ran for one for Central Catholic, and Montell Bland rushed for 91 yards and a score as the Raiders won their 23rd consecutive playoff game in helping the section go to 2-0 in bowls this weekend. Del Oro beat previously undefeated Camarillo 16-13 on Friday night to win the CIF State Division II-AA championship at Sac State.
San Marino played without standout quarterback Carson Glazier, who had 4,119 yards and 47 touchdowns. He suffered a concussion last week and, per CIF rules, had to sit out seven days, even if cleared by doctors.
When asked if he wanted to pursue a fifth championship ring next season, Canepa cracked, “I only have four fingers.”
A well driller by trade, Canepa lost a finger on his right hand years ago from a work accident.
Narbonne 28, Clayton Valley Charter 14 – Sean Riley rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns, and Kameron Denmark raced in for a 43-yard touchdown with 38 seconds left in the third quarter to account for the final score in the Division I-A championship as the Gauchos (14-2) of Harbor City became the first Los Angeles city team to win a state championship since the CIF Bowl era started in 2006. Ray Jackson III rushed for 152 yards and a score and Jake Peralta had 129 yards and a touchdown for the Ugly Eagles of Concord (13-2).