The juggernaut keeps churning, devouring all comers within driving distance.
It’s not De La Salle as much as De La Stomp, the high school football powerhouse of national renown from Concord that habitually pummels Northern California teams.
This was supposed to be the season the Spartans would show cracks of vulnerability, become a bit more mortal. They graduated all but one starter from their 2015 CIF State championship team, lost early to the top-ranked team in Utah on a last-play field goal and then eked out some close victories. Then De La Salle hit a familiar gear down the stretch.
On Friday, the Spartans stymied previously unbeaten Freedom 42-7 by holding 2,100-yard rusher Ronnie Rivers to three yards in claiming the program’s 25th consecutive North Coast Section championship. De La Salle (12-1) extended its NorCal unbeaten streak against teams north of Fresno to 281, dating to 1992, in clinching its 11th consecutive CIF State Bowl berth.
The Spartans advance directly to the CIF State Open Division championship game on Dec. 17 at Sacramento State, and they’re worth watching because to see them is to fully appreciate them. The CIF bid will become official on Sunday afternoon when the state’s 10 commissioners and a crew of others decide where section champions go from here.
And Freedom? The season’s not over. The Falcons of Oakley will advance to a NorCal title game, likely the Division I contest deemed the secon- highest classification behind the prestigious Open.
How can this be?
The North Coast Section went to an Open format for the first time in an effort to allow its member football programs a chance to compete beyond the considerable shadow and stranglehold of De La Salle. So the North Coast Section received approval to send its Open runner-up to a NorCal game.
This is an example of the De La Salle impact that allows such oddities. There is no other way to deal with this program. The pressure is always on De La Salle – no prep program in any sport or of any gender on the West Coast bears the burden to excel quite like this one – but the benefits are bountiful. The Spartans next weekend will have their third playoff bye week in the six-week sprint sprint to the state finals to rest, recover, scout and prepare.
Is this fair?
Some coaches within the Sac-Joaquin and Central Coast Sections are miffed by this. They shouldn’t be. The only way around it is to beat the Spartans. And why no NorCal Open title game? The CIF, the governing body for prep sports in this state, tried that before with overwhelmingly lopsided results.
In 2012 and 2013, the top two NorCal teams were selected for the first NorCal Open games. De La Salle rolled Folsom both times, halting the Bulldogs’ 14-0 seasons. In that format, Northern California wasn’t sending its top two teams to the state finals, so it was decided that if De La Salle continued to win its section, it would earn a NorCal bye.
And NorCal coaches have a thin argument against this process. Every year, athletic directors, fans and assistant coaches – head coaches don’t tend to spout off – from section programs say a regional team finally will topple De La Salle. In a word: no.
De La Salle has gone 12-0 against the section’s top teams in recent years. That’s five wins against St. Mary’s, three against Del Oro, two against Folsom and one each against Granite Bay and Jesuit. And none of them were close.
De La Salle has earned the respect and admiration of each of these programs. Not once have the Spartans been accused of running up the score, taunting or showboating. The Spartans conquer with class.