High School Sports

Prep notes: Milpitas’ loss could lead to a Folsom-Grant showdown for NorCal D-I football championship

Rio Linda quarterback Zak Burden (20), shown in an October game against Inderkum, threw four touchdown passes and caught a TD pass in last Friday’s win over Sierra of Manteca.
Rio Linda quarterback Zak Burden (20), shown in an October game against Inderkum, threw four touchdown passes and caught a TD pass in last Friday’s win over Sierra of Manteca. Special to the Sacramento Bee

The results of a high school football playoff game Friday night in the Bay Area resonated like a cannon blast of opportunity deep into Del Paso Heights and Folsom.

Bellarmine of San Jose’s 9-6 overtime upset of previously unbeaten Milpitas in a Central Coast Section Open Division playoff opens the possibility of Folsom and Grant – The Bee’s top two ranked teams – meeting for the CIF Northern California Division I championship at Sacramento State next month.

The Bulldogs and Pacers, of course, first must win two more games each, and coaches from both programs vow to make their players run wind sprints if they dare discuss any possibilities beyond the next practice. But there will be enough chatter by fans, media and others around the state’s 10 section offices that make up the CIF selection committee that determines who competes in NorCal games.

Only section champions are NorCal-eligible. Folsom (Division I) and Grant (D-II) are both top seeds rolling at 12-0 as favorites to win section titles. Should Folsom and/or Grant lose in the coming weeks, it will be an all new scramble.

But should Folsom and Grant win out in section play, the programs likely will be picked to play for the NorCal title, a first for local football teams. As a section D-II champion, Grant would be eligible to move up a division for NorCal play, much as Del Oro did last season after winning the section D-II title (the Golden Eagles beat Serra of San Mateo in the NorCal D-I game).

For weeks, the argument from the Central Coast Section was, in so many words, “Don’t forget about Milpitas.” The Central Coast Section office surely would push for its Open Division champion for the NorCal D-I game, particularly if Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton (11-0) were to win that Open Division crown. But the Gators are not ranked in the state, and rankings are part of the selection criteria (Sacred Heart Prep next plays Los Gatos, coming off a 28-0 triumph of previously state-ranked Serra). Folsom is ranked third in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, and Grant is seventh. Folsom and Grant are ranked second and third, respectively, in Northern California behind De La Salle.

And what about De La Salle? What is certain is the Spartans will not play Folsom or Grant. The CIF has dropped the elite-level NorCal Open title game, allowing the top-ranked team in Northern California and from Southern California to advance to the CIF State Open game in Carson on Dec. 20 after the sectional round. De La Salle, unbeaten against NorCal competition since 1992 and a runaway winner over Folsom in the 2012 and 2013 NorCal Open games, will get that 2014 Open bid should it win its 24th consecutive North Coast Section D-I banner.

Folsom and Grant – from players to coaches – have admired each other this season. Folsom coaches watched Grant plow past Jesuit 52-14 to win the Delta League championship in Week 10, and they caught Grant’s 42-23 victory over Patterson in a D-II playoff opener.

“Great team,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “Very impressive.”

‘Beast’ of Burden – Zak Burden, who played defense last season, now plays quarterback with a linebacker’s mentality. The Rio Linda senior passed for 267 yards and four touchdowns, and he caught a touchdown pass on a trick play to lead the Knights past second-seed Sierra of Manteca 49-44 in a D-III game on Friday.

Marcel Brown ran for 191 yards and accounted for two scores against Sierra. This came a week after Brown rushed for 349 yards and five touchdowns against Placer.

“Zak’s a beast,” Rio Linda coach Justin Reber said. “An even bigger performance than Marcel’s last week. OK, it was very comparable, that’s for sure.”

Rio Linda plays at longtime power Oakdale (11-1) on Friday.

Tigers roar – Division III top seed Inderkum rushed for 431 yards on 47 carries while holding Benicia to minus-13 yards on 25 carries in a 49-14 victory over the Panthers on Friday.

Senior running backs Austin Thurman (163 yards) and Larry Hardy (153) combined for three rushing touchdowns for the Tigers, who host Sacramento in a semifinal.

Vista groan – For the third time in four seasons, Vista del Lago was eliminated from D-III play by Oakdale (42-14), snapping the Eagles’ eight-game winning streak. Oakdale coach Trent Merzon called the game “maybe our best performance on defense in the last three years.”

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.