Both teams joined as one captive audience two hours before kickoff Friday night in Loomis. The topic was something a bit more important than football.
Players took a knee in the wrestling room at Del Oro High School and soaked in the message from their coaches, Casey Taylor from the host Golden Eagles and Eric Cavaliere from Oak Ridge, the emotions heavy and sincere. The coaches talked about appreciating this grand game of football and good health, and to honor and appreciate those who have lost their battle with cancer or who are dealing with it now.
With pink the common color in the stands and sideline on cancer awareness night, and with urgency the underlined theme for the athletes, Bee No. 10 Del Oro beat No. 11 Oak Ridge 35-14 in what amounted to an elimination game in the Sierra Foothill League.
Logan Hurst pieced together his finest effort of an otherwise frustrating season, accounting for five touchdowns. He hit Trey Udoffia for touchdown strikes of 9, 69 and 28 yards, threaded a perfect 77-yard bomb to Dalton Gee and capped the scoring with a 16-yard run for a team that had been averaging 17 points. Hurst passed for 303 yards, including six passes to brother Mason Hurst for 62 yards. Mason also had two of his team’s three interceptions of standout Ian Book.
Del Oro, facing the most brutal schedule of any team in the Sac-Joaquin Section, must run the table to ensure a playoff berth. Taylor maintained all week that no one feels mercy or pity for Del Oro, one of Northern California’s elite programs with a string of SFL and section titles. He added that if the Golden Eagles (3-5, 2-2) couldn’t manage at least a third-place finish in the muscle-bound SFL, “then we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.”
Before the game, Taylor stressed the big picture.
“You’ve got to live life,” Taylor said of the significance of cancer awareness night, “because there are no guarantees. We’ve all lost someone special to cancer. It’s easy to throw on a pink shirt or to wear pink gloves, but we really try to play for the cause and awareness of cancer, and we were glad to do this with Oak Ridge.”
As for his team, the youngest in his 13 seasons at Del Oro, Taylor said he has been impressed with the effort, if not perplexed by some of the results.
“You can’t get to the core of your team unless you’ve faced some adversity, and we have,” Taylor said. “And it’s not just having a little scab and putting a (Snoopy) Band-Aid on it or a cool cast. We’re learning and growing through adversity, and we’ve played hard. Love the effort.”
Before kickoff, there was a moment of silence for Jack Harnden, the football coach at Oak Ridge when the school opened in El Dorado Hills in 1980. He died of cancer in 2013. The honorary captain for the coin flip was Beck Pahl, the wife of Del Oro assistant freshman coach Mike Pahl and mother of former Golden Eagles standouts Hunter and Tanner Pahl. She recently was diagnosed with breast cancer.
And longtime Del Oro supporter Wilbur Heath, the father of graduated Del Oro star lineman Zach Heath, also is battling cancer. Oak Ridge wide receiver Tanner Emanuel was moved by the pregame speech, as the senior lost his mother two years ago.
“It was a great message, listening to the emotion of those coaches and what this all means,” Oak Ridge lineman and captain Nolan Book said. “It’s more than just our school colors. Pink and what it represents is important.”
On the field, no game was more dire than this one for Del Oro, which could not afford another setback with losses to national power De La Salle, Bee No. 1 Folsom, a Hawaii powerhouse and Helix, the top-ranked team in San Diego. Del Oro graduated a ton of leadership and talent from last season, when it won section and NorCal championships and reached a CIF Bowl for the second time since 2011.
“We’ve had a hard time locking down some games, and that’s a credit to other teams,” Taylor said. “We believe in this group.”
Del Oro has a bye next week, then plays its homecoming game against No. 13 Woodcreek on Oct. 31 before closing regular-season play at chief rival Granite Bay, a showdown that has decided many SFL titles in the past 15 seasons. Oak Ridge (4-4, 1-3), meanwhile, must finish strongly for any chance of a playoff berth. Having reached the Division I final in each of the past two seasons, the Trojans face Nevada Union and Folsom.
“Things have been a little rough lately,” said Cavaliere, the veteran Oak Ridge coach. “To compete against the top programs in our area, we have to be at our best, and we simply have not been at our best the past few weeks. We are fighting for our football lives.”