High School Sports

After lengthy layoff due to Camp Fire smoke, how do area prep football teams respond?

Kaiden Bennett, center, helped lead Folsom to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title with a win over St. Mary’s last season. The teams will meet in a semifinal Friday at Folsom High School.
Kaiden Bennett, center, helped lead Folsom to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title with a win over St. Mary’s last season. The teams will meet in a semifinal Friday at Folsom High School. Sacramento Bee file

It’s go time.

It’s been two weeks since any high school football teams in the region have played a game — and seemingly as long for some to have had a chance to practice outdoors. Smoke from the Camp Fire, the deadliest blaze in state history, forced the postponement of playoff games throughout Northern California, including locally within the Sac-Joaquin Section. All of Friday and Saturday’s rounds were rescheduled from Nov. 16-17 to this weekend.

Teams that had an opening-round bye have played one game since the end of the regular season Oct. 26. But no one dares complain. No one in this section lost their town or homes, which is the anguish that hovers over those in Butte County, including the town of Paradise, which has been flattened.

Del Oro, the top seed in Division II, will not have a game this weekend. Because semifinal opponent Jesuit had to forfeit its two playoff victories for unknowingly playing an ineligible player, the Golden Eagles automatically advance to the title game.

A closer look at key games (number indicates seeding):

Division I

No. 1 Folsom (10-1) vs. No. 4 St. Mary’s (7-4) — These programs have had some terrific playoff meetings before, and this figures to be a fun one, too.

How do the Rams of Stockton expect to slow the Bulldogs? No one seems to have that answer much of this decade.

Kaiden Bennett has passed for 3,031 yards and 47 touchdowns for Folsom despite playing in the fourth quarter of only two games and in the second half of just three due to blowout scores. Daniyel Ngata has rushed for 660 yards and nine scores and is a devastating blocker and pass catcher. WRs Elijhah Badger and Joe Ngata are perhaps the best 1-2 outside punch in regional history with speed and hands, and they have combined to catch 31 TDs.

St. Mary’s has a misleading record, having played one of the most difficult schedules in Northern California with losses to powerhouses Central Catholic, Pittsburg, Mater Dei and Damonte Ranch of Reno.

No. 3 Oak Ridge (8-3) at No. 2 Monterey Trail (11-0) — The visiting Trojans hail from the top league in the section in the Sierra Foothill League (which includes Folsom and Del Oro), so never mind the record here. Monterey Trail is 11-0 for the first time and seeks its third trip to the D-I final.

How the Mustangs deal with Oak Ridge QB Matt Jenner is just as critical in how the Trojans handle the speed of Mustangs backs Zach Larrier, Jehiel Budgett, Prophet Brown and Viktor Oliver.

Division II

No. 3 Inderkum (11-0) at No. 2 Central Catholic (10-1) — The Tigers were puzzled that they did not garner a No. 1 of 2 seed, given their 10-0 regular season, and now they can do something about it: topple a higher seed.

This figures to be a fast and fun game, heavy on backs. Inderkum is paced by Raymond Brown (1,488 yards rushing, 21 touchdowns), Aaron Espero (934 yards, nine TDs) and Johnny Williams (735 yards, 14 scores) and QB JJ Ray (1,167 yards passing, 10 TDs).

Central Catholic, the most accomplished program in section history with a record 18 titles in 21 title-game appearances in various divisions, has lost only to De La Salle, the top-ranked team in Northern California pretty much since 1984. The Raiders of Modesto are led by QB Dalton Durossette (1,497 yards passing, 20 TDs) and backs Dawaiian McNeely (835 rushing yards, eight TDs) and Kyle Jacklich (868 yards, 14 TDs).

Division III

No. 1 Capital Christian (11-0) vs. No. 4 Antelope (8-4) — This is a rematch of an entertaining, if not at-times chippy nonleague game from Sept. 7, won by Capital Christian 26-19. Cooper Crick tossed two TD passes for the Cougars in that victory while Savaughn Bradley rushed for 162 yards and a score for the Titans.

Antelope has to beware of Capital Christian star running back D’Marcus Ross, who has rumbled and sprinted for 1,851 yards and 20 touchdowns this season as a fourth-year varsity starter.

No. 11 River Valley (8-4) at No. 2 Placer (11-0) — This will be a wing-T clinic, where deception and a bevy of backs aim to fool defenders.

The head coaches go back a long way. Placer’s Joey Montoya got his coaching start at Nevada Union in 2000 as an assistant to Miners head coach Dave Humphers, now the co-coach at River Valley with Brennan McFadden. Montoya is in his 12th season at Placer, a run that includes four section-final appearances since 2008 and a title last season.

The Hillmen include running backs Hans Grassman (1,431 yards rushing, 22 touchdowns), Marshall Chapman (1,006, 22), Brad Bishop (901, 13) and Jesse Whigam (625, eight).

River Valley is the lowest-seeded team left in any of the seven divisions, coming off an upset of previously unbeaten Merced 45-40. The Falcons of Yuba City are paced by QB Dawson McPeak (1,254 yards passing, 16 TDs) and RBs Niko Tejada (610 rushing, 10 scores), Rex Baker (687, seven) and Evan Strickland (812, six).

Division IV

No. 5 Oakdale (9-3) at No. 1 Rio Linda (9-2) — Two run-heavy programs meet with Rio Linda needing every ounce of record-setting Cameron Skattebo to topple one of the section’s storied programs. Skattebo has rushed for 2,445 yards and 30 TDs. Quarterback Tyson Ybarra serves as a dual threat.

Oakdale seeks its 15th section-title appearance and its fourth title since 2012. Longtime coach Trent Merzon is an Oakdale graduate and one of the great coaches and champions in this section.

No. 3 Casa Roble (10-1) at No. 2 Vanden (9-2) — The Rams seek just their second trip to a section final and can do so if it maintains the offensive balance that has flustered teams all season. QB Marciano Huston has passed for 1,343 yards and 20 touchdowns, and a bevy of backs have combined to rush for 30 scores.

Casa Roble is already a winner this season beyond what happens here, as the team visited the Paradise High squad Tuesday to lift spirits and help with fundraising efforts.

Division V

No. 4 Sonora (7-4) at No. 1 Colfax (11-0) — A year ago, Colfax outlasted Sonora 56-55. Now the Falcons again have to brace for QB Jake Gookin, who ran for 265 yards and scored five times out of the triple-option offense. Gookin has led the Wildcats to a seven-game winning streak, leading to this point.

Colfax counters with a passing quarterback in Alex Weir, who has 32 touchdown tosses and two interceptions.

No. 3 Bear River (10-1) at No. 2 Ripon (10-1) — The Bruins look to go 3-0 against the Indians in the playoffs over the past four seasons, winning previously 20-7 and 14-7.

Bear River aims to reach a section final for the fourth time in five seasons under co-coaches Terry Logue and Scott Savoie, who have relied on QB Calder Kunde, RBs Tre Maronic and Hunter Daniels, and WR Dylan Scott. Each of those stars also plays on defense and will have to keep tabs on Ripon dual-threat QB Ryan Daggett.

Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: jdavidson@sacbee.com, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.

Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs

All games at 7 p.m. Friday unless noted.

Division I

No. 4 St. Mary’s at No. 1 Folsom

No. 3 Oak Ridge at No. 2 Monterey Trail, 7 p.m. Saturday

Division II

No. 1 Del Oro on bye (No. 5 Jesuit disqualified)

No. 3 Inderkum at No. 2 Central Catholic

Division III

No. 4 Antelope at No. 1 Capital Christian

No. 11 River Valley at No. 2 Placer

Division IV

No. 5 Oakdale at No. 1 Rio Linda

No. 3 Casa Roble at No. 2 Vanden, 7 p.m. Saturday

Division V

No. 4 Sonora at No. 1 Colfax

No. 3 Bear River at No. 2 Ripon

Division VI

No. 4 Ripon Christian at No. 1 Modesto Christian

No. 3 Escalon at No. 2 Hilmar

Division VII (championship)

No. 3 Golden Sierra vs. No. 1 Denair at Liberty Ranch High (Galt), 1 p.m. Saturday

Related stories from Sacramento Bee