It was a marathon journey for nearly 200 high schools from the Sac-Joaquin Section this high school football season.
From the searing summer heat to the sudden winter chill of Week 10 on Friday, a frenetic pace now becomes an all-out sprint for teams pursuing those spiffy blue championship banners that hang so nicely in a gymnasium for all to see. It will be a three-week dash to the section finals for the lower-division programs and a four-week bolt for the larger schools, followed by Northern California Regional title games for all section champions.
All told, the selection committee at the Lodi section office crunched numbers and data, strength of schedule and leagues to craft together seven divisions. A total of 78 teams are in the playoffs, 72 in Divisions I through VI.
And the committee largely got it right.
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This is no easy task, culling all these teams together, all while fielding frantic calls and texts from coaches and athletic directors pleading for fairness and higher seeds. Seedings are not standings. Strength of league and strength of schedule are factors. Some coaches and athletic directors will fume when they come to the section office Monday to pick up playoff tickets and paperwork, arguing bias against their programs. That’s all a desperate reach, of course, but competitive nature never takes a day off.
Folsom was the clear No. 1 seed in Division I, having just completed its fourth successive 10-0 regular season and riding state-leading winning streaks of 41 in the regular season and 26 overall. Elk Grove (10-0) is seeded second, looming in the bottom half of the bracket, and Oak Ridge (8-2) was rightly seeded third, having lost only to Folsom and unbeaten Nevada power Reed. Napa at No. 4 gives the bracket three 10-0 teams.
Grant (9-1) was the right pick as the top seed in Division II as the Pacers had a stronger overall schedule than No. 2 Antelope, which is 10-0 for the first time. Rocklin (7-3) was the wise pick as the No. 3 seed, having lost only to Folsom, Oak Ridge and Whitney, the Thunder without its top three players against Whitney. Del Oro (4-6) at No. 5 surely will irritate the anti-Golden Eagles crowd – and it’s a large one – but the section got it right. It factored strength of schedule and league wins, just as Granite Bay was the right pick as one of the three 5-5 at-large bids for various divisions.
Granite Bay is the ninth seed in D-II, finishing behind Folsom, Oak Ridge, Rocklin and Del Oro in the section’s top league, the Sierra Foothill. The Grizzlies are in the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season, second in the region to Grant’s 25-year run.
Sacramento (7-3) is seeded seventh in D-II, and wanted a higher draw as a 9-1 team on the field (excluding two forfeit losses for a seldom-used ineligible player), but the Metropolitan League is very top heavy. The Dragons will be the lone section team to host on Saturday, Nov. 14, taking on McNair (8-2) of Stockton at 1 p.m.
The D-III field features three 10-0 teams and one powerhouse 9-1 bunch in second-seeded Oakdale, the defending champion that lost to top-seeded Central Catholic 42-37 in a thriller on Friday to decide the Valley Oak League championship. Central Catholic is the three-time defending CIF State D-IV champion that moved up in division this season, and this could be its best team.
Also in D-III, No. 3 Inderkum, No. 4 Patterson and No. 5 Placer all boast 10-0 records. All wanted to be seeded in the top two, but none played schedules as daunting as Central Catholic or Oakdale, and that adds up. And the coaches and players in all divisions can do something about their perceived slights: win.
Other top seeds are Lathrop (6-4) in D-IV, Sonora (9-1) in D-V, Hilmar (7-3) in D-VI and Stone Ridge Christian of Merced (9-1) in D-VII.
Capital Christian (10-0) won the section D-VI title last season and moved up a division.
Ugly end – The Monterey Trail-Davis Delta League contest ended with a brawl, sullying an otherwise great game with plenty at stake.
Davis was fighting for pride after a long season full of injuries and defeat, and Monterey Trail was scrambling for its playoff life. The Mustangs beat Davis 36-29, but both teams had players ejected. This doesn’t hurt Davis as the Blue Devils season is over, except for image. But it profoundly affects Monterey Trail as CIF rules stipulate that ejected players must sit out the next game, meaning they will not play in a D-I opener at Oak Ridge.
“The game was very disappointing as we felt trapped trying to hold our emotions in a hostile environment,” Mustangs assistant coach Rick Arcuri said. “We lost three kids to ejections that were based on zero-tolerance rules. The environment created a feeling of self-defense mode that should not be a part of a football game. As you know, we pride ourselves in positive sportsmanship at Monterey Trail and will continue to live up to that standard as we move forward.”
Referee incident – Grant defensive coordinator and co-athletic director Carl Reed said late Friday night that he and head coach Mike Alberghini were appalled at the words of a side judge during Friday’s home game against Jesuit. Grant won 42-16.
“The referee said he didn’t mind talking to Coach Al, but didn’t want to hear from the rest of us hoodlums,” Reed said. “That’s what he called us, ‘hoodlums.’ We were shocked. There was a delay in the game and that referee was finally switched to the Jesuit sideline.”
Reed said he and Alberghini would write formal letters of concern to the referee’s association.
In my 26 years on this beat, it’s very common for referees to tell the head coach that he wants an open line of discussion with him only and not get bombarded by assistant coaches. That’s more than fair, but the extra wordage Friday at Grant puts a stain on referees in general, and that’s not fair to them.
For the most part, this regular season included some of the best officiating I’ve seen in years, in part because of the good dialogue between the head coaches and referees.