Veteran coach Matt Ray said his Antelope High School football team has grown up so fast this season that even his 10-month-old son is involved.
Vander Ray hasn’t dozed at a game yet, according to his dad. “He’s lasted to the end – amazing – wearing a Titan zip-up outfit,” Ray said.
After opening with a 27-20 loss to No. 8 Monterey Trail, No. 17 Antelope (3-1) routed Sheldon 55-9 and Laguna Creek 42-13 and beat then-No. 20 Ponderosa 48-20 on Friday in a Capital Valley Conference opener.
Even more impressive, the Titans start nine underclassmen on offense and seven on defense.
Never miss a local story.
“There’s no such thing as a good loss, but we learned from that Monterey Trail game – how to practice, how to win varsity games – and the evolution has been exciting to watch,” Ray said. “It’s the youngest team we’ve had, but it’s a good group. Any coach will tell you that, for young teams, it’s about getting them to focus and understand certain components.”
Antelope, which has won two league titles and made it to the playoffs four times since opening seven years ago, is led by 6-foot-5 junior quarterback Montel Aaron – “a very special talent,” Ray said – and running backs Devaun Welch and Mister Harriel, who rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns and returned an interception for a score against Ponderosa. The line is anchored by center Lemuel Williams and left tackle Jaelen Lewis, and the defense is headed by linebackers Chad Hill and Zack Horsley, defensive backs Caelan Barnes and Khanii Lesane, and defensive lineman Josh Purther.
Ray said he is exposing his son to football early, as he was while growing up before becoming a star quarterback at Quincy High. His father, Jeff Ray, and grandfather, Don Ray, coached Quincy football for five decades.
“It was a great way of life: football and family,” said Ray, whose Titans play at Oakmont on Friday.
Upset city – The area’s biggest upset this season happened in Yuba City on Friday with upstart River Valley beating then-10th ranked Rio Linda 27-13, thrusting the Falcons into the Tri-County Conference championship race with No. 9 Inderkum.
Avery Gould passed to Devin Cates for two touchdowns and Robert Robinson for one, and Dante Love rushed for 133 yards.
River Valley is ranked by The Bee for the first time in the program’s nine-year history, at No. 20.
Showdown Friday – Three games Friday feature teams ranked in the top six by The Bee: No. 1 Folsom visits No. 6 Del Oro, No. 3 Grant plays at No. 2 Elk Grove, and No. 4 Rocklin hosts No. 5 Oak Ridge.
Folsom and Del Oro play for the first time as members of the realigned Sierra Foothill League. Folsom has won 29 consecutive games against Sac-Joaquin Section opponents since 2011, and Del Oro has won 11 straight and 15 of 16 against section teams.
Grant will try to avenge a 7-3 loss at Elk Grove last season in a Delta League showdown.
In another SFL game, Rocklin and Oak Ridge meet for the first time as league members.
Et cetera – Josh Bist, a 6-4 wide receiver for Ponderosa, has caught 33 passes, including four for touchdowns, and is averaging 145.8 yards per game.
“He’s excellent,” Ponderosa coach Jason Tenner said. “He understands the game, has great body control – a rare breed who plays three sports. And he’s so competitive. He comes from a football family.”
Bist’s father, Chic, is Ponderosa’s freshman coach and brother Jake was a Ponderosa quarterback.
• Four teams dropped out of The Bee’s Top 20: Pleasant Grove, Nevada Union, Placer and Ponderosa.