Skip Albano is enjoying the ride.
The Granite Bay High School interim football coach downplays his role, careful not to disrupt what has been a smooth journey for the Grizzlies in recent years. Albano took over in a pinch when veteran coach Ernie Cooper stepped down for the season to reassess and recharge, and all indications are he could be back as head coach next fall.
Granite Bay rolled Tokay of Lodi 58-12 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I opener last Friday and plays at Oak Ridge tonight as the program’s quest for a championship three-peat continues. Granite Bay beat Oak Ridge in the D-I final last season. This isn’t the same team Albano inherited in the summer as star flyback Tony Ellison and leading receiver Marc Ellis have been lost for the season with injuries, but the pride remains, the coach said.
“I’m extremely pleased with what we’ve done,” Albano said. “We’ve come out fired up, hot, fast, and that’s what we’ve had to do to overcome the loss of those two great players. And they’ve done it every week as a team. It’s pretty amazing to watch. I’m in awe of what’s going on.”
Albano had prior assistant coaching stints at Granite Bay, and he’s coached in Europe. Albano said he is still evolving on the fly for a team that runs the fly offense.
“There’s a lot of tradition in place here, and I want to hold onto those and still be myself,” Albano said of the transition. “We’ve settled in. We’re starting to roll. I’m surrounded by a great bunch of coaches who get it done. And I’m more relaxed. I’m enjoying this. And it confirms to me more and more that it’s about players and not plays.”
Albano said quarterback Josh Neal has played “like a quiet giant.” His father, Bill, is the team’s offensive coordinator.
“Two years ago, Josh had to step in (because of injury) and he won that playoff game against Oak Ridge, and now here he is, emerging as the guy,” Albano said. “It’s pretty impressive to watch him grow and develop.”
Ground attack – Rio Linda and Vacaville meet in a Division II game with the host Knights looking to avenge a 35-21 setback in a playoff opener last season.
Both teams are quick, run-heavy and physical, Rio Linda coach Mike Morris said.
“This game reminds me of the old Capital Valley Conference days, us vs. Foothill,” Morris said. “They even have the same colors (orange and black) as Foothill. We really respect their program. Their coaches are good dudes. They came to our jamboree this year, so we are somewhat familiar with each other. Their speed scares me.”
Rio Linda tailback Marcel Brown, one of the quickest players in the section, is certainly a concern for Vacaville, having rushed for 1,612 yards and 22 touchdowns on 10.5 yards per carry.
A second shot – Two weeks after falling to Center 34-19 in a Pioneer Valley League finale, Placer heads back to Antelope for another shot in a Division IV game. Placer realizes it has to contain Tyrell Anderson, who passed for a score, ran for 134 yards and a touchdown and made plays on special teams and defense.
Tiger time – An Inderkum victory tonight over Vanden in D-III will give the Tigers and coach Terry Stark 10 victories for the eighth successive season . Inderkum is led by quarterback C.J. Spencer and defensive back Jordan Thomas, an Arizona State commit.
Road warriors – Golden Sierra of Garden Valley, the farthest eastern team in the section, will travel more than three hours to Mariposa for a D-V game. Commuting is the norm for veteran Grizzlies coach John Hilton. He teaches physical education and health at Placer High in Auburn.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD, check out his Preps Plus Insiders every Monday at blogs. sacbee.com/preps and listen to his “Extra Point” every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.
WHERE’S JOE D?
The Bee’s Joe Davidson will be at Elk Grove High School tonight for the Thundering Herd’s game against Burbank in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II football playoffs.
SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION PLAYOFFS
All games at 7 p.m.
• No. 8 Franklin at No. 1 Folsom
• No. 12 Jesuit at No. 4 Tracy
• No. 11 Granite Bay at No. 3 Oak Ridge
• No. 7 Pleasant Grove at No. 2 Stagg-Stockton
• No. 9 Whitney at No. 1 Del Oro
• No. 5 Grant at No. 4 Yuba City
• No. 6 Burbank at No. 3 Elk Grove
• No. 7 Vacaville at No. 2 Rio Linda
• No. 8 Christian Brothers at No. 1 American Canyon
• No. 13 Oakdale at No. 5 Sacramento, 1 p.m. Saturday
• No. 6 Vanden-Fairfield at No. 3 Inderkum
• No. 10 Casa Roble at No. 2 Manteca
• No. 8 Colfax at No. 1 Central Catholic
• No. 5 Calaveras at No. 4 Ripon
• No. 14 Placer at No. 6 Center
• No. 10 Escalon at No. 2 Hilmar
• No. 5 Waterford at No. 1 Le Grand
• No. 3 Golden Sierra at No. 2 Mariposa
• No. 4 Brookside Christian at No. 1 Bradshaw Christian
• No. 3 Ripon Christian at No. 2 Woodland Christian