Just like that, we’ve reached the final week of high school football’s regular season.
The campaign started in the heat of August and continued through a warm fall – shorts and T-shirts for 10 successive weeks – and will conclude Friday in the chill of fall. We might even have rain, and forgive us for jinxing it all.
Friday will include three league-championship tilts, spanning schools large, medium and smaller, and each all harboring Sac-Joaquin Section championships as well.
Top-ranked Folsom heads to El Dorado Hills to face No. 2 Oak Ridge, which remembers all too well a 17-16 setback at Folsom to cap the regular season a year ago in the Sierra Foothill League title game.
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The winner moves to 10-0 and earns the No. 1 seed in the section’s Division I playoffs, announced Saturday afternoon in Lodi. The loser likely earns the No. 3 seed behind defending champion St. Mary’s of Stockton, which has only lost to national No. 1 Mater Dei of Santa Ana and to unbeaten Central Catholic of Modesto.
Folsom and Oak Ridge are led by stellar quarterbacks – Kaiden Bennett and Marco Baldacchino, respectively – and unsung defenses.
Folsom has not lost to Oak Ridge since 2006, and the Bulldogs are riding a 33-game league winning streak, including the last 22 in the SFL. Oak Ridge is primed to have perhaps its best team, certainly its best in D-I, and that’s a testament to the program coach Eric Cavaliere has maintained.
The Capital Athletic League championship again comes down to Christian Brothers and Vista del Lago, and the teams roll into Vista’s pristine new home stadium in Folsom ranked No. 12 and No. 19, respectively.
Gunnor Faulk leads CB at quarterback, having set school touchdown passing marks, and Vista del Lago is propelled by record-setting running back Dominick Norris and drive-blocking lineman leader Andrew Cokley.
And in Placer County, the Pioneer Valley League crown will be the prize in Auburn when No. 13 Lincoln visits No. 14 Placer. Both teams are 8-1, balanced on offense and superbly coached – Lincoln under Chris Bean and Placer with Joey Montoya.
Is there a better home setting than Placer’s LeFebvre Stadium, which has housed league champions dating to 1903? And it’s a real-grass field, so players will trudge home with legitimate grass and mud stains.
There are other games of intrigue on Friday, too, including in Del Paso Heights, where Grant needs a Delta League victory over No. 6 Jesuit to ensure its 27th consecutive playoff berth. Jesuit has won seven consecutive games, locked up at least a share of the Delta and just rolled a Monterey Trail team 34-7 that recently beat Grant 26-14. Grant has reached the playoffs 33 times.
No. 16 Elk Grove seeks its 32nd playoff berth and can cement it with a Delta League win over No. 7 Sheldon, though the Thundering Herd could still get in at 5-5 should they lose.
And there’s Del Oro, which needs a win over Woodcreek in SFL play to have a shot at qualifying for its 28th playoff berth. Teams must have at least two league victories to be playoff eligible.
Below are The Bee’s power rankings, based on strength of schedule as they are not standings. Also included are the section rankings and this week’s schedule. Dig in.
THE BEE’S TOP 20
With last week’s ranking in parentheses.
1. Folsom (1) 9-0
The Bulldogs graduated a ton from last season’s team that reached a section final for the seventh consecutive time, and here come the youngsters, looking to extend streaks.
2. Oak Ridge (2) 9-0
The Trojans have worked hard for this opportunity with a wealth of returning seniors leading the charge and destiny in their hands.
3. Inderkum (3) 9-0
The Tigers had a bye to rest and recover. Now they set aim on the program’s third 10-0 regular season since 2009, with a section title the ultimate goal.
4. Sacramento (4) 8-1*
The Dragons are eager for the D-II playoffs, rolling Burbank 41-0 in outscoring five Metropolitan Conference opponents 287-0. McClatchy and the Bell Game loom.
5. Granite Bay (5) 7-2
The Grizzlies are in the playoffs for the 19th consecutive season, having lost only to Folsom and Oak Ridge, but rematches won’t happen with Granite Bay in D-II.
6. Jesuit (6) 7-2
That 0-2 start is ancient history as the Marauders are Delta League champions, and now they have a chance to end Grant’s ongoing section record of consecutive playoff appearances.
7. Sheldon (8) 7-2
The Huskies have one local loss, a 37-29 decision against Jesuit. The other setback was a 28-21 loss to Reno, which is 9-0 and ranked No. 4 in Nevada.
8. Del Campo (10) 9-0
Tyler Dimino has played like a leader, and his deft passing and ability to play hurt has the Cougars on the brink of their first 10-0 regular season.
9. Rocklin (7) 6-3
The Thunder have two local losses, both in SFL games to Folsom and Oak Ridge, and this is every bit a dangerous lot for the D-II playoffs that won’t include Folsom or Oak Ridge.
10. Franklin (9) 6-3
The Wildcats are steaming from a senior-night loss to Elk Grove, but they can do something about it: beat Pleasant Grove to fatten up for a D-I run.
11. Antelope (11) 8-1
The Titans are in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season, and they have gone 32-3 the last three years, with more mountains to scale.
12. Christian Brothers (13) 7-2
The Falcons are balanced on offense, including unsung runners Jaiden Green, Jacob Tucker, Chace Gallup and Freddie Fiske.
13. Lincoln (14) 8-1
This is why the Zebras are difficult to stop: they average 237.5 yards passing and 201.4 rushing, and they have a sweet all-purpose threat in James Sweet.
14. Placer (15) 8-1
The Hillmen won their first league championship in 1903, then a bunch throughout the decades, so yes, this is tradition.
15. Monterey Trail (12) 5-4
The Mustangs have either delivered battering blows to foes or have taken it on the chin strap, including falling hard to Jesuit. They’ll recover just fine.
16. Elk Grove (-) 5-4
The Thundering Herd, depleted by injuries, flexed some storied-program muscle in beating Franklin 30-26 to keep their hopes alive for a 32nd playoff appearance.
17. El Dorado (17) 7-2
The Cougars can air it out with Danny Bell (1,973 yards, 19 touchdowns) and they can run it with Steven Fox (1,195 yards, 15 scores), but the defense needs to tighten.
18. Cordova (18) 6-3
The Lancers have a Bee All-Metro candidate brewing in Johnele Sanders, who has passed for 1,738 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 855 and nine, and he’s primed for the playoffs.
19. Vista del Lago (19) 6-3
Dominick Norris is a rumbler of a back who appreciates his offensive line after he chugged for 253 yards and five touchdowns against El Camino.
20. Yuba City (-) 6-4
There’s nothing like beating your chief rival to secure a playoff berth, and that’s what the Honkers did in beating previously ranked River Valley 26-23.
* Does not include three forfeited losses for using seldom-used ineligible player.
Dropped out: No. 16 River Valley, No. 20 Whitney
Bubble teams (alphabetical order): Bear River (6-3), Bradshaw Christian (6-3), Capital Christian (6-3), Center (5-4), Colfax (6-3), Del Oro (4-5), Dixon (6-3), Grant (4-5), Highlands (7-2), Rio Americano (6-3), Rio Linda (6-3), River City (7-2), River Valley (6-3), Woodland Christian (8-1).
THE BEE’S SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION TOP 20
From 190 schools in the second-largest of California’s 10 sections.
1. Folsom (9-0)
2. Oak Ridge (9-0)
3. Central Catholic-Modesto (8-0)
4. Inderkum (9-0)
5. Sacramento (8-1)*
6. Oakdale (8-1)
7. St. Mary’s-Stockton (7-2)
8. Granite Bay (7-2)
9. Jesuit (7-2)
10. Sheldon (7-2)
11. Vacaville (5-3)
12. Del Campo (8-0)
13. Manteca (7-2)
14. Gregori-Modesto (9-0)
15. Franklin (6-3)
16. Rocklin (6-3)
17. Antelope (8-1)
18. Turlock (7-2)
19. Modesto (6-3)
20. Downey-Modesto (8-1)
* Does not include three forfeited losses for using seldom-used ineligible player.
This week’s schedule (Nov. 3-4)
No. 1 Folsom at No. 2 Oak Ridge
No. 3 Inderkum at Rio Linda
No. 4 Sacramento vs. McClatchy at Hughes Stadium
No. 5 Granite Bay at No. 9 Rocklin
No. 6 Jesuit at Grant
No. 7 Sheldon at No. 16 Elk Grove
No. 8 Del Campo at Bella Vista
No. 10 Franklin vs. Pleasant Grove at Sheldon
Whitney at No. 11 Antelope
No. 12 Christian Brothers at No. 19 Vista del Lago
No. 13 Lincoln at No. 14 Placer
No. 15 Monterey Trail at Davis
No. 17 El Dorado at Union Mine
Rosemont at No. 18 Cordova
Bye: No. 20 Yuba City
Mira Loma at El Camino
Ponderosa at Cosumnes Oaks
Roseville at Oakmont
Mesa Verde at Capital Christian
Burbank at Kennedy
Bear River at at Center
Foothill at Colfax
Valley Christian at Delta
Woodland Christian at Foresthill
Liberty Ranch at Galt
Valley vs. Florin at Monterey Trail
Bradshaw Christian at Highlands
Golden Sierra at Rio Vista
Argonaut at Dixon
Del Oro at Woodcreek
River City at River Valley
Woodland at Pioneer
Rio Americano vs. Casa Roble at Del Campo High
Johnson vs. Laguna Creek at Cosumnes River College
Lindhurst vs. Natomas at Yuba College, 7 p.m.