Some of the most spirited action in Yolo County on Friday night took place some 40 minutes before kickoff, within the sweaty confines of the Davis High School gymnasium.
There, Blue Devils football coach Steve Smyte went off — in a good way.
He implored his players as they prepared to take on storied Grant in a season opener to play hard and smart, to trust each other, to take it all personal, and then he punctuated it with, “This is the year of the Devil! This is our house! This is our year!”
And it was their game.
Ranked 12th by The Bee, it’s highest billing in years, Davis flexed its considerable muscle against a Grant program used to doing its own muscle work over the decades, registering a 35-6 knockout at Dewey Halden Field over the No. 11 Pacers..
It’s as big a season-opening victory for Davis as longtime viewers can recall, and it’s the first triumph over Grant since the early 1980s.
Smyte is the focal point, though he points to the assistant coaches and especially the players.
Davis won its first league championship in 1936, displayed on a banner in the gym, and it kept winning over the decades before hitting a decline this decade. In his second tour as head coach, Smyte has twice assumed control of a program coming off an 0-10 season. He’s in his second season as coach now, and he’s thrilled at the prospects.
“When I came back this time to coach, my daughters thought I was crazy — ‘are you kidding me?’” Smyte said. “We have a great group of kids on this roster. If you coach high school football, you do it for the right reasons, to help kids.”
Davis led 7-6 at the half on a Luke Carrell 70-yard touchdown pass to Ben Busano, and then rolled in the second half behind touchdown runs of 27 and 36 yards from Taylor Vaughn, who chugged and sprinted for 155 yards. Brennan Garvin also had a 23-yard scoring strike to Busano and had a 1-yard scoring plunge.
Smyte told his troops before the game that this would be, “A man’s game.”
The big man on campus for Davis is Gerad Lichenhan, all 6-feet-9 and 340 pounds of shadow-casting, field-tilting tackle terror. He held his own, and then inflicted his own against Grant. He is committed to attending Colorado on scholarship.
Davis plays at Dewey Halden Field, named after the school’s football coaching great a generation ago. The press box bears the name of other Davis football coaching greats in Bud Henle, Dave Whitmire, Ralph Villanueva and Bob Johnson. Davis won its last league championship in 1994 and won its lone Sac-Joaquin Section title in 1988 under Whitmire, Villanueva and Johnson. Those men played for Henle at Davis.
A new era with new stars has arrived.
Grant, meanwhile, has some work to do. The Pacers are down to 32 players, the lowest in coach Mike Alberghini’s head-coaching tenure, which started in 1991.
“We still don’t know how good we can be,” he said. “We’ll find out.”