The season started in the heat of August, endured the typical twists and turns, and now the campaign is in late fall with inclement weather part of the discussion.
The Sac-Joaquin Section football championships this weekend will crown winners spanning six divisions, and the prevailing theme Monday morning at the annual championship breakfast at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi was perspective. Specifically, don’t take any of this for granted.
That was the theme from section commissioner Mike Garrison, backed by keynote speaker Aaron Garcia and stressed by the coaches on hand. It’s difficult enough to reach the playoffs, or a section final, never mind winning one.
Garcia set scores of regional passing records as quarterback at Grant High School in 1987, but he was not able to reach a section final. He won one championship in an otherwise decorated 19-year Arena Football League career in which he set the league record for touchdown passes with 1,336.
“Enjoy everything you’ve got now,” said Garcia, now the athletic director at Capital Christian.
The section finals were originally scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend, but smoke from the Camp Fire prompted scores of games across Northern California to be pushed back.
Garrison urged team captains to stress to teammates to look and act the part of champion, win or lose. He reminded that this weekend represents the section’s biggest championship stage.
In a season marred by an inordinate amount of in-game fighting, Garrison said now is the time to showcase the good of sportsmanship and effort, “because everyone’s watching.”
“It’s important to win with grace and to lose with dignity,” Garrison said.
Folsom (11-1) is in a section final for a ninth consecutive season, seeking its seventh championship this decade. The top-seeded team in Division I with only an opening-night loss at national powerhouse De La Salle, Folsom takes on second-seeded Monterey Trail (12-0), which is in a final for the third time in program history.
This game is Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Sacramento State.
“It’s hard to get here,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said. “We appreciate the process.”
It’s not often that a 12-0 team looms as a big underdog, but that’s what Monterey Trail faces. The Mustangs and coach TJ Ewing embrace the challenge.
“We knew we’d be good this year, and we are, and Saturday is the apex of it all, against Folsom,” Ewing said. “We’ll find out who we are.”
The D-II final Saturday at Sac State (2 p.m. kickoff) features teams steeped in tradition.
Top-seeded Del Oro is in its 18th section final, seeking its 12th banner since 1989. Second-seeded Central Catholic of Modesto is in its 22nd final, seeking its 20th title.
Central Catholic and Del Oro are first and second all time in section history in championship appearances and wins. Both teams sport 11-1 records this season.
The D-III final will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Whitney, pitting 12-0 teams.
Top-seeded Capital Christian has won three smaller-school banners and is in D-III for the first time under coach Casey Taylor, who won six titles at Del Oro. Placer is in its third successive title game, seeking a return to a CIF State final after nearly winning one last season under longtime coach Joey Montoya.
The D-IV title game is also at Whitney, a 2 p.m. start. For one team, a drought will end, perhaps even in the rain.
Top-seeded Rio Linda (10-2) last won a title in 2004, when the current Knights players were just getting started in school. Rio Linda plays third-seeded Casa Roble (11-1), which last won a title in 2008.
Today’s Rams players were into SpongeBob SquarePants then.
“I was talking to our guys about this recently,” Casa Roble coach Chris Horner said. “Who remembers how cool it was at 7 years old? Look at you now. Reflect on that.”
More perspective: Compete for a championship prize that others were not able to do.
The Paradise High football program surrendered its playoff season after the Camp Fire leveled the town and scorched some 153,000 acres in Butte County. The deadliest blaze in state history killed at least 85 people and destroyed 14,000 structures - office buildings, homes, schools.
Horner and wife Michelle helped raise $25,000 for fire relief, and he took his team to visit the Paradise team last week. The Rams wear helmet stickers that read “Paradise Invincible” - and replica stickers were also shipped to Capital Christian, Rio Linda, Placer and Del Oro.
In D-V, rivals meet for the championship for the third time in five seasons.
Top-seeded Colfax (12-0) meets fellow Pioneer Valley League member and third-seeded Bear River (11-1) on Friday night at Nevada Union.
“We’re hoping the third time’s the charm,” Colfax coach Tony Martello said, knowing too well that Bear River won the last two section-title meetings, including last season.
All winners will advance to a Northern California Regional championship game at home sites.
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: firstname.lastname@example.org, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.