The sights and sounds of Redondo Beach soothed the sting of defeat just slightly for Casey Taylor.
The Del Oro High School football coach extended his CIF State Championship stay an extra night with his family in an effort to detox from a grind of a season that started in the August heat in Loomis and came to a close in the December chill in Carson on Friday night.
In the Division I final, the Golden Eagles competed as they always do – hard hits, big plays, effort to the end – but were outclassed by a quarterback maestro in Asauni Rufus, who ran the triple-option to perfection. Bakersfield topped Del Oro 56-26 at StubHub Center, halting the Golden Eagles’ 12-game winning streak.
“Great season,” Taylor said Saturday afternoon. “Our guys, they gave us everything they had all year. It’s hard to lose the last game, but there are only five state champions, so we’re proud of what we did.”
What the Golden Eagles did was beat longtime powerhouse programs Grant and St. Mary’s of Stockton to cap nonleague play, lock up the Sierra Foothill League with spirited wins over rivals Granite Bay and Rocklin, win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship with a dramatic late rally over Elk Grove and hold off Serra of San Mateo in the NorCal Regional D-I contest. And Del Oro was the last regional team standing, just as it was in 2011, when it lost to Helix of La Mesa in the D-II State Bowl.
“We have a lot to be proud of,” Del Oro defensive end Tanner Woods said.
Del Oro (13-3) and Bakersfield (13-2) were tied 14-14 in the first half, the Drillers of the Central Section stretched it to 28-17 by halftime. The Golden Eagles struggled against the Drillers’ speed. And two second-half sequences ultimately doomed the Golden Eagles.
On 4th-and-4 in the third quarter, Bakersfield’s Kevin Hayes ran 12 yards on a fake punt. On the next play, Jeremiah Reddick raced in from 47 yards to make it 35-17. Moments later, Nate Stancil returned a Del Oro interception to the 1, setting up another score, and suddenly it was 42-17. Rufus rushed for 184 yards on 19 carries and two scores and he passed for another.
Hayes capped the scoring with an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown, and the winningest program in state history with 749 victories celebrated its first state championship since winning six in the 1920s.
“They just broke it open,” Taylor said. “They had too much speed. That quarterback is special. He’s as great of an athlete as we’ve seen. We watched film of him, but we couldn’t simulate his quickness.”
Rufus, a third-generation Driller, said, “Del Oro is a great team. They’re one of the greatest teams in the state, and they made us earn it. The scoreboard doesn’t show how hard this game was.”
Bakersfield coach Paul Golla said he was concerned about Del Oro’s power running game. Dylan Kainrath, playing with bad shoulders, a bad left knee and a broken left hand, rushed for 198 yards on 35 carries and three touchdowns.
“Del Oro gave us a lot of sleepless nights coming in,” Golla said. “And they showed why. They play with such passion and grit and never give in. They are are a high-character team.
“But I like to think we are, too. I thought we played a tremendous game – excellent blocking, great big plays, no turnovers. And of course it all starts with our quarterback. He’s pretty good.”
Kainrath finished with 2,088 yards and 27 touchdowns. He joins Bryce Pratt (2,448) from 2009 as the only Golden Eagles to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a season.
The Del Oro blockers, who Kainrath praised all season, are Santino Garcia, Brandon Johnson, Woods, brothers Elias Campos and Emileo Campos and tight ends Kyle Wells and Justin Gazzaniga, the son of Dan Gazzaniga, a standout Del Oro lineman in the late 1970s and now a Golden Eagles assistant.
Optimist time – Del Oro’s season is over, but some of its players will suit up one last time. Johnson, Woods, Kainrath, Emileo Campos and linebacker Tyler Meteer will compete for the North team in the 57th annual Optimist All-Star Game on Saturday at Folsom.
The North will be guided by Mike Morris, the outgoing Rio Linda coach who on Saturday at StubHub Center was presented with the CIF Model Coach Award for his years of leadership and sportsmanship. He was recognized during the Division II Bowl game between Chaminade of West Hills and Redding’s Enterprise, his alma mater.