Midway through the regular season, Casey Taylor wasn’t sure what sort of team he had.
A 35-point loss to Folsom assured the longtime Del Oro High School football coach that his group was still very much a work in progress.
On Friday night at frigid Sacramento State, Taylor can say with conviction that he has a gauge on what sort of outfit he has now: a championship one.
Starting and finishing strong, the Golden Eagles polished off upstart Inderkum 35-13 to repeat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division II champions.
It’s the 12th title for the storied Golden Eagles of Loomis and the sixth for Taylor since 2005. Del Oro has won five section banners since 2010 and now targets its fourth CIF State Bowl bid of the decade.
Del Oro and all section champions will learn whom they play in the CIF Northern California Regional championships on Sunday.
The Golden Eagles fully expected to play well into the chill of December with 17 starters back from their CIF State Division II-AA title team.
And that midseason hiccup to a Folsom squad that plays for its fifth successive section title on Saturday night at Sac State? A wake-up call that served its purpose.
It’s how a team responds that counts, Taylor said.
“We were 6-0 going in against Folsom and wanted to make a statement, and they gave it to us in the shorts,” Taylor said. “You learn. We got back to the basics, the process.”
Del Oro (12-2) buckled down and went back to what works down the stretch, blasting through four rounds of the playoffs with offensive balance, dominating line play, stout defense and the confidence of a champion.
And for good measure, Del Oro improved to 6-0 at Sac State in title games under Taylor.
“We had that stumble in the season and our guys realized that the time is here, the playoffs,” Taylor said. “Our ultimate goal is to win the state title. You try to tell the guys to enjoy the ride, the process, but to turn it up a notch because in the playoffs, everything is magnified.”
The focus for Del Oro has been Stone Smartt, one of seven three-year starters who dot the roster. The dual-threat senior quarterback opened the scoring with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Mason Hurst and hit Hurst for a 25-yard score on third and 18 with 7:29 to play for a 28-13 lead.
Smartt passed for a modest 133 yards on 10 of 12 attempts and rushed for 46 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown with 1:14 to play, and the celebration was on moments later. Del Oro eliminated a Tigers team that had bounced top-seeded Sacramento in the mud in Oak Park and red-hot Jesuit in the rain in Carmichael but fell 21-0 behind in dry conditions to the Golden Eagles in falling to 0-4 in section title games.
Inderkum coach Terry Stark said he will miss this Tigers group that finished 11-3 and had a 10-game winning streak halted. He spoke admiringly of Del Oro this week, saying, “We call them the University of Del Oro because it’s been such a great program, a real standard of how to play the game the right way. They’ve been a great program forever. If you’re going to open a new school, Del Oro’s the one you copy because they just do it right in every way.”
Del Oro players will rib Hunter Halverson for years for his moment in the spotlight. The senior lineman scooped up a fumble after an Israel Luna sack and rumbled 69 yards for a 21-0 lead.
He then lost his lunch on the sideline.
Dalton Gee rushed for 82 yards and a score for Del Oro, and Camrion Davis had 45 rushing yards.
Inderkum made a game of it for a stretch when Destynd Lewis scored on a 1-yard plunge with seven seconds left in the half and when he raced in from 17 yards out with a second to play in the third to pull within 21-13. Del Oro found a new gear from there to extend its season.