We merged minds, Julian Lopez and me, amid sandwiches and refills of iced tea.
Our skull session included mounds of paperwork but did not include helmets, so we emerged concussion-free, or so we hope.
Lopez is the Modesto Bee sports guru, the Southern California native tracking teams and talents in the 209 area code for just over a year while I do the same in the Sacramento region, going on season 31. I’m a Bay Area native whose high school years were spent in the mountains of eastern Oregon. We have been accused by grouchy parents of surely being a graduate of Elk Grove, Grant, Jesuit or, heavens, St. Francis, an all-girls school. You catch the drift.
The Sac-Joaquin Section – which Lopez and I cover inside and out in football – is the second-largest of the 10 sections that make up the California Interscholastic Federation, which has nearly 200 schools. For the first time, our news outlets will run Bee Section Rankings.
We will do so for small schools and large, reflective of the depth of teams dotted across the Central Valley. A lot of these teams meet in nonleague games and/or the playoffs, adding to the argument of why this is a must.
The Bee’s Large School rankings will consist of teams in divisions I-IV, with the Small School rankings for programs in divisions V-VII.
The southern part of the section is heavy on small-school powers, including Hilmar and Denair, each coming off CIF state championship seasons.
The northern part of this section is heavy with large-school heavies.
Folsom, Del Oro, Rio Linda and Colfax each reached the CIF finals in 2018, with Folsom repeating and Rio Linda also prevailing. That title-game haul marks the most successful season in section history, and we project more of the same, if not better, for 2019.
Folsom was the clear preseason section No. 1 and has had a stranglehold on The Sacramento Bee rankings for seven years.
The Bulldogs have an opening-night bye this week, then play Jesuit at Sacramento State on Aug. 30.
The Bee’s Large School No. 2 and 3 teams are Central Catholic of Modesto and St. Mary’s of Stockton, storied programs that meet Sept. 6 in the 209 version of the Holy Bowl (the 916 version is Jesuit vs. Christian Brothers on Sept 14 at Hughes Stadium, the 50th meeting between the rivals).
Central Catholic on a roll
Central Catholic has won a section-leading 19 championship banners in 21 title-game appearances, mostly in smaller divisions, though the Raiders have fared just fine since moving up to Division II. The program is led by one of the state’s most charismatic characters in coach Roger Canepa.
And more intrigue: Central Catholic hosts Northern California No. 1 De La Salle on Aug. 30 in the biggest nonleague meeting in that part of the section since De La Salle visited Merced in 1991.
Central Catholic’s showdown with De La Salle comes two weeks before the Spartans of Concord visit Folsom, so we will find out soon enough how this section fares with the NorCal standard of football. De La Salle has not lost to a NorCal team (north of Fresno) since 1991, a run of 299 games.
This decade, De La Salle has topped St. Mary’s four times, Folsom three times, Del Oro three times and once each over Central Catholic, Granite Bay and Jesuit.
The highest-ranked Large School team in Lopez’s immediate coverage is Turlock, led by lineman Everett Johnson, a Cal commitment. The collective push is on for the Merced/Modesto/Turlock schools to clear the 916 hurdle in the Division I finals.
A Sacramento-area team has won the D-I section championship 23 of the last 25 years with St. Mary’s winning three times in that stretch under longtime coach Tony Franks, a UC Davis graduate.
Folsom has seven section titles this decade, five in D-I, and nine overall since 1989. Del Oro has won 12 section titles in D-II or III in 19 title-game appearances. Grant has seven D-I or II banners since 1991, all under coach Mike Alberghini, and Granite Bay has six in D-II.
Eight-time small-school section champion Escalon tops The Bee’s first Small School collection, followed by Hilmar, Colfax and Bear River (with those three combining for 16 titles).
Escalon returns three running backs who each rushed for more than 800 yards last season, and the Cougars are eager to topple Hilmar after two successive playoff losses to the Yellowjackets. Escalon opens Friday at home against Union Mine, a team shaken by the illness of beloved coach Chic Bist, who is in hospice, battling cancer.
Ripon Christian is ranked fifth, coached by Randy Fasani, the most accomplished player in the history of Del Oro and one of the section’s most dynamic quarterbacks – another example of how the entire section is intertwined one way or another.
THE BEE’S TOP 10
Small Schools (last year’s record)
1. Escalon (9-3)
2. Hilmar (13-2)
3. Colfax (13-1)
4. Bear River (11-2)
5. Ripon Christian (12-1)
6. Sonora (7-5)
7. Center (8-4)
8. Denair (12-1)
9. Ripon (10-2)
10. Bradshaw Christian (6-5)
- Julian Lopez/Joe Davidson
THE BEE’S TOP 20
Large Schools (last year’s record)
1. Folsom (14-1)
2. Central Catholic (11-2)
3. St. Mary’s (7-5)
4. Monterey Trail (12-1)
5. Oak Ridge (8-4)
6. Vacaville (6-5)
7. Turlock (8-4)
8. Tracy (8-4)
9. Capital Christian (13-1)
10. Rio Linda (13-2)
11. Del Oro (13-2)
12. Oakdale (9-4)
13. Inderkum (11-1)
14. Granite Bay (6-5)
15. Jesuit (9-4)
16. Downey (7-5)
17. Grant (5-6)
18. Manteca (8-4)
19. Edison (9-3)
20. Buhach Colony (9-3)
- Joe Davidson/Julian Lopez
All Friday games start between 7 and 7:30 p.m.
Rocklin at Antelope
Truckee at Bear River
Casa Roble at Bella Vista
Cosumnes Oaks at Capital Christian
Christian Brothers vs. Burbank at Hughes Stadium
Vista del Lago at Cordova
Pleasant Valley at Del Oro
Western Sierra at Delta Charter
Bethel at Dixon
Encina at El Camino
Argonaut at El Dorado
Inderkum at Elk Grove
Union Mine at Escalon
Placer at Eureka
Coral Academy at Foresthill
Franklin vs. McNair at Cosumnes Oaks
Woodland Christian at Galt
Colfax at Golden Sierra
Davis at Grant
Valley Christian at Incline Village
Johnson at Liberty Ranch
Pleasant Grove at Kennedy
Laguna Creek vs. Valley at Cosumnes River College
Natomas at Marysville
Merced vs. Del Campo at Golden Valley
Mesa Verde vs. Lindhurst at San Juan
Granite Bay at Monte Vista
Yuba City at Nevada Union
Lincoln at Oak Ridge
Rodriguez at Oakmont
Center at Rio Linda
Ponderosa at River City
Woodland at River Valley
Bear Creek at Roseville
San Juan at Delta
Monterey Trail at Sheldon
Woodcreek vs. Rio Americano at Del Campo
Paraclete at Whitney
Liberty at Vacaville