This marks the 48th year of the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs with 201 total champions crowned over various divisions since 1971.
The big blue banners matter and they are displayed prominently in gymnasiums across the sections after being held high by jubilant coaches after title conquests. The early years of the section tournament crowned one champion, in Class A, and then it grew to three divisions and now up to seven as the section – the second largest of the 10 in the state – experienced some of the most rapid growth on the West Coast.
A year after seven unbeaten teams rolled into the playoffs, there are only three this time with Inderkum in Division I, Buhach Colony of Atwater in D-III and Center in D-V. In 2015, there were a record 10 teams who entered at 10-0. At least one 10-0 team has won a section crown in 22 of the past 25 seasons, including Capital Christian and coach Casey Taylor last season.
All of the section champions from a year ago are back in the running: Folsom in D-I, Capital Christian in D-III, Rio Linda in D-IV, Colfax in D-V, Hilmar in D-VI and Denair in D-VII. Del Oro won it in D-II last season and is in the D-I field this season.
Each of the runner-ups also return, in order: Monterey Trail, Central Catholic, Placer, Casa Roble, Bear River, Ripon Christian and Golden Sierra.
Versatile coach dies
The region lost one of its best personalities and most versatile coaches when Don Barney died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 63.
Barney played multiple sports at Bella Vista in the 1970s and got his coaching start in football at Mira Loma under famed coaches Don Brown and Gerry Kundert, a program that produced eventual 200-game winners in Terry Stark, whose Inderkum Tigers are in the D-I field, and Dave Humpers, a co-coach with Brennan McFadden at River Valley, which stunned the D-III field a year ago.
Barney coached the best Bella Vista baseball teams in program history in the 1990s and 2000s, and he helped coach Bella Vista football in recent seasons when his health allowed him so.
Said Stark, “Sad day.”
Joe D Picks the preps
So, hey, better at the guessing game here as we went 4-1 in regular-season wrap up affairs, missing only on Cosumnes Oaks over Davis.
Davis coaches like our vibe, in good spirit. We picked against the Blue Devils against Grant, Jesuit and Cosumnes Oaks – and Davis won each time. The one time we picked Davis, over Elk Grove, the Blue Devils lost. So if we pick Davis to storm to the section D-I finals, is that a good thing, or a bad omen?
We just know this: we’re 0-0 to start the playoffs, just like everyone else.
Here are our picks for the opening round of the playoffs (numbers are seeds, not Bee rankings), with all games Friday at 7 p.m.:
No. 12 Pleasant Grove (6-4) at No. 5 Monterey Trail (9-1)
Storyline: What is this, a Delta League remake? Yes – sort of. These were longtime Delta members before realignment moved Monterey Trail into the Metropolitan League. MT’s speed, ferocity and run game goes against star quarterback Nathan Valencia, who enjoys the view this season as compared to the 0-10 campaign of a year ago.
We think we know: Monterey Trail 35-28
No. 11 Gregori (6-4) at No. 6 Davis (9-1)
Storyline: Memo to self: don’t bet against Davis, and we cannot here as the Blue Devils are battle tested from the rigors of the Delta League. Davis is off to its best start since the 1983 team went 10-1 and have the line, defense and playmakers to make a title run.
We think we know: Davis 44-21
No. 10 Del Oro (6-4) at No. 7 Turlock (8-2)
Storyline: Del Oro is in D-I for the first time due to the section’s sustained-success model, and the Golden Eagles are prepared after a recent win over D-II top seed Rocklin behind veterans Aiden Foster, Sheldon Konde, Kal Lunders and linemen David Veske and Tucker Black.
We think we know: Del Oro 21-20
No. 9 Whitney (5-6) at No. 8 Lincoln (5-5)
Storyline: Colby Green, Grady Manley and Jacob Wagner of Lincoln combined for 24 tackles in a 22-17 nonleague win over Whitney on Sept. 13, which was eons ago. They’ll have to be in high gear to deny Whitney QB Eli Brickhandler and friends.
We think we know: Whitney 21-20
No. 11 Oakmont (6-4) at No. 6 Elk Grove (6-4)
Storyline: Oakmont baseball knocked off Elk Grove in a playoff opener last season, en route to a D-II title. This is a different game, certainly, and Oakmont hasn’t seen a player as explosive as Thundering Herd QB Carter Harris, though Vikings LB Sean Miles fears no one in averaging 13 1/2 tackles a game.
We think we know: Elk Grove 48-21
No. 9 Antelope (5-5) at No. 8 Ponderosa (5-5)
Storyline: Never mind the records, these teams have been stalled by injuries and tough foes in league play, and either is capable of a title run. Who’s healthier?
We think we know: Antelope 24-21
No. 12 River Valley (4-6) at No. 5 Vista del Lago (8-2)
Storyline: A year ago, River Valley became road-warrior upset kings, pulling off two big wins before losing in the mud 7-6 at 12-0 Placer. This time, the field turf at Vista is sound, as is the running of area rushing leading Ethan Menezes (1,608 yards).
We think we know: Vista del Lago 31-21.
No. 11 Johnson (8-2) at No. 6 Roseville (6-4
Storyline: Welcome to the show, Johnson. The Warriors are in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and have their first winning record since 2002, thanks to RB Doreion Akins (1,376 yards, 23 TDs). Roseville is a playoff regular, hails from a much stronger league and has used 10 runners to amass 2,649 yards and 30 scores.
We think we know: Roseville 35-14
No. 10 Yuba City (6-4) vs. No. 7 Christian Brothers (7-3) at Hughes Stadium
Storyline: The QB play of Christian Brothers’ Jacob Stewart (19 TDs) and the powerful running of Yuba City’s Takeshi Faupula are paramount here. CB is 6-1 at Hughes Stadium this season.
We think we know: Christian Brothers 35-34
No. 9 Colfax (7-3) at No. 8 Union Mine (6-4)
Storyline: An intriguing meeting of good QB play between Colfax’s Travyn Heimann and Union Mine’s Clayton Beyer, the best in that school’s history (opened in 1999). Beyer passed for 404 yards and four TDs to beat Colfax 36-21 on Sept. 20. Colfax is the defending section champion.
We think we know: Union Mine 35-28
No. 10 Foothill (7-3) at No. 7 Liberty Ranch (5-5)
Storyline: The meaningless comparison score: Liberty Ranch lost 44-21 to Bear River, which lost to Foothill 40-17 when Bear River was without its ace QB. What we do know: This will be high scoring and fun.
We think we know: Foothill 42-40
No. 10 Highlands (8-2) at No. 7 Bear River (7-3)
Storyline: This is a fun one pitting ace QBs, the 6-foot-5 Chrichion Brown of Highlands (31 TD passes) against the relentless Tre Maronic of Bear River, whose body says to slow it down amid injuries but whose heart overrules.
We think we know: Bear River 24-21