Six football teams remain from a pool of 78, spanning seven divisions, that kicked off the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Champions in four divisions have been determined. In a rarity, the three larger-school championship games pit Sacramento-area teams against squads from the southern part of the section.
Top-seeded Folsom (13-0) plays No. 7 Tracy (10-3) for the Division I title on Saturday night at Sacramento State, a night after No. 1 seed Grant (13-0) takes on third-seeded St. Mary’s of Stockton (12-1) for D-II honors at the same venue.
Also on Saturday night at Lincoln of Stockton, top-seeded Inderkum (12-1) meets No. 3 Oakdale (12-1) in the D-III title contest.
“Of the 225,000 athletes who played sports in this section (this academic year), you’re on the grand stage now,” section Commissioner Mike Garrison told coaches and players of the teams at the fifth annual Sac-Joaquin Section Championship Luncheon on Sunday at Sac State. “Cherish the moment. Hold your head high, no matter what happens.”
Folsom is in a title game for the fifth consecutive season and seeks to retain its D-I championship. Led by record-setting quarterback Jake Browning, a dominant offensive line, an unsung running game and a stout defense that may be the best in program history, Folsom has not lost to a section team since 2011 (Vacaville in the D-II final). The Bulldogs are riding a 38-game section winning streak, 11 wins coming in playoff games.
Folsom’s only losses in the past two seasons have been to De La Salle, which hasn’t lost to a NorCal team since 1992. The teams will not meet this season because the NorCal Open game has been dropped. The CIF will allow the No. 1 team from the North (De La Salle, should it win its 24th consecutive North Coast Section D-I title this weekend) to advance to the CIF State Open game Dec. 20 in Carson against the SoCal No. 1 team that will also earn a regional bye.
Should Folsom beat Tracy, it likely will take on the winner of the Grant-St. Mary’s game for the NorCal D-I title on Dec. 12 or 13. But no one is looking that far ahead, particularly Folsom as it faces a Tracy team that is in full upset mode. Tracy beat second-seeded Jesuit 48-38 in a quarterfinal and third-seeded Granite Bay 27-21 in overtime last Friday to reach its first title game since winning the section title in 1987.
“I think teams might have taken us lightly on the road in the playoffs, and we like that,” Tracy coach Matt Shrout said. “We play better football than people think. We’re pretty good.”
These Bulldogs have the attention of the Folsom Bulldogs.
“We will not overlook Tracy,” Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor stressed. “They’re really impressive, and they’re resilient. Teams that win close games, it’s not by accident. We have an incredible amount of respect for Tracy.”
The feelings are mutual. Shrout said Folsom “is an excellent football team that can do it all.”
The respect also runs deep in D-II with coaches and friends Tony Franks of St. Mary’s and Mike Alberghini of Grant. They pulled for each other when both reached CIF State Bowl games in 2008, when Grant beat Long Beach Poly in a thrilling Open Division game and St. Mary’s lost a thriller in D-II.
And the teams’ offensive schemes are as different as they are effective. Grant runs the ball behind a big offensive line with the three-headed backfield of DeShawn Collins, Mike Green and Deondre Whittington-Grays. St. Mary’s spreads the field with five-receiver sets for quarterback Noah Righetti.
“Tony has another great team,” Alberghini said.
“Grant is so good, and Mike’s team makes up for a lack of speed and size with size and speed,” Franks joked, knowing full well that the Pacers are bigger and faster than most teams.
The D-III game features teams that rely on the run-heavy wing-T. Inderkum, in a title game for the third time since 2008, has used its speed to demoralize opponents. Oakdale, in a title game for a sixth time under coach Trent Merzon, rushed 77 times for 532 yards to beat Rio Linda 41-14 in a semifinal.
“We’re wing-T guys,” Inderkum coach Terry Stark said. “I don’t know what I’d do if I was at Folsom. Pass-block? What is that?”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.
At Sacramento State
▪ No. 1 Folsom (13-0) vs. No. 7 Tracy (10-3), 7 p.m.
At Sacramento State
▪ No. 1 Grant (13-0) vs. No. 3 St. Mary’s (12-1), 7:30 p.m.
At Lincoln High School
▪ No. 1 Inderkum (12-1) vs. No. 3 Oakdale (12-1), 7 p.m.