Nine weeks in, and we still cannot completely put our cleats or taped-up knuckles firmly into this puzzle.
For one thing, we’re dealing with high school student-athletes – teenagers, which is the joy of it. It’s also the maddening aspect of it.
Kids compete with joy and abandon, and they generally care. They also make mistakes. Words come in one ear hole and sail out the other.
Check out the exasperated expressions of coaches in any part of the Sacramento region. They can go over details every day in practice, plead and preach to do what’s right, and then they flinch when simple plays become a chaotic mess.
That’s what happened in Elk Grove on Friday night. Cosumnes Oaks, a team dripping of talent and ability, had a difficult time getting out of its own way against the host Thundering Herd in a game big in championship implications.
Three times in the game’s opening moments, the Wolf Pack were flagged for a delay of game. Coach Andrew Bettencourt nearly ate his head set, or chucked it. He did neither, understanding that he needed it.
Cosumnes Oaks made gaffes on offense, defense, special teams, trailed 5-0 at the half, then 12-0 after Carter Harris took off for a 65-yard touchdown sprint to open the third quarter. Then the Wolf Pack settled down and took off.
Behind Anthony Grigsby’s three touchdown passes and 241 yards passing, Cosumnes Oaks delivered its second statement victory of the season, a 23-12 effort over the storied Thundering Herd to inch closer to the program’s first Delta League championship. The first monster win was a one-point effort to beat then No. 2 Monterey Trail, an upset in a season defined by them.
“We have young guys – kids,” Bettencourt explained later in the parking lot, his expression a mix of pride, joy and hands-to-the-head angst. “We can be so good. It’s fun to see when we play well.”
Here’s how nutty the season has been, and not in a bad way: Grant has one win, over Franklin, which beat Cosumnes Oaks 14-7, which just handled Elk Grove, which rolled Franklin last week by 47.
Bettencourt is a kid at heart. He was a ball boy for coach George Smith in the early 1990s at Christian Brothers. As Cosumnes Oaks athletic director, Smith in the offseason hired Bettencourt to run the football program.
Other things we learned Friday as the Sac-Joaquin Section playoff opener loom Nov. 8:
Sierra Foothill League staying power
How does one solve the Sierra Foothill League race for second place behind top-ranked Folsom, which hasn’t lost a league game since 2011 and has won 39 in succession in the SFL?
No. 4 Oak Ridge lost by three to Folsom and by six to No. 3 Rocklin, which Friday lost by seven to Del Oro, which lost by 23 to Oak Ridge. You follow me? Here’s more: Del Oro lost by three to Whitney, which lost by 23 to Granite Bay, which lost by 18 to Del Oro.
We’re concussed just pondering it.
Folsom has a 1-2 quarterback combination to fear with Jake Reithmeier and Ari Patu.
They work behind a coming-of-age offensive line and working with the best 1-2-3-4-5 skill-set crew in the section in running back Daniyel Ngata, tight end DeShawn Lynch and receivers Elijhah Badger, Cameron Broussard and C.J. Hutton. Good luck stopping any of it as the Bulldogs seek their ongoing record ninth successive section championship.
Inderkum Tigers roar
No. 2 Inderkum will benefit from being pushed in recent weeks as it ran its regular-season winning streak to 37 with a 35-20 win over Yuba City, the last program to beat the Tigers in league play – in 2012.
Inderkum has won 40 in a row in league play and 70 of 71 overall, spanning different conferences. Easy routes help no one.
Pacer 4 Life
Grant won’t make the playoffs, but the Pacers can prevent a 1-9 finish and deny Whitney a playoff berth with a win in Del Paso Heights on Friday.
Last year’s meeting ended with a brawl, resulting in mass ejections Grant winning 39-28.
No. 5 Monterey Trail lost only by a point to Cosumnes Oaks and craves a rematch in the D-I playoffs.
Regular-season losses are not a bad thing. Look how Folsom has responded this decade with early losses to Grant in 2010 (and then won the CIF State D-II title) and last season to De La Salle (and repeated as State Division I-AA champions).
Defending D-III section champion and No. 6 Capital Christian is heating up at the right time behind a dominating offensive line, running backs Isaiah Bass and Zeke Burnett, quarterback Austin Amador and a do-all marvel in Max Rodarte.
The Cougars host No. 15 Vista del Lago and 1,200-yard rusher Ethan Menezes on Friday for the Capital Athletic League championship. So yes, league championships still mater.
Blue with envy
No. 8 Davis has its best team since the mid 1990s, and can win its first Delta title since then with a triumph of Cosumnes Oaks in a battle for first.
The real fun is the playoffs, and Davis looms as a dark horse regardless of outcome at Cosumnes Oaks, especially if Taylor Vaughn gets going at running back.
No. 12 Center is 9-0, thanks to a suffocating defense and a viable Bee Player of the Year candidate in quarterback Michael Wortham.
He’s 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds of guts, talent and sheer drive. The Cougars loom as favorites in the D-V field, won last season by Colfax, which is 7-2 and playing inspired under 200-game winning coach Tony Martello. Colfax is also the defending D-V section champion and plays at Center on Friday to cap the Pioneer Valley League.
Hey, hey, it’s Tre
The guy’s as tough as a rusty bent nail.
Tre Maronic was supposed to be out for the season with a collarbone injury, but the gritty Bear River senior quarterback had a couple of plays to test it out Friday in a 28-7 loss to Center. Bear River will be in the D-VI playoffs, which surely makes the rest of the field all the more antsy if Maronic rounds back into form.
Friday will include an unusual nonleague game of teams capable of winning section championships, and what a quarterback show it figures to be.
Elk Grove hosts Oak Ridge in a meeting of top-tier playmaker. Carter Harris fuels D-II bound Elk Grove and Justin Lamson keys the D-I Trojans, and best of luck to the defensive coordinators.