Joe Davidson

Area prep football benefits from out-of-town competition

Del Oro Golden Eagles Stone Smartt (4) runs a quarterback sneak during the fourth quarter at a game between the Del Oro Golden Eagles and San Jose's Bellarmine College Prepatory School on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, at San Jose City College in San Jose.
Del Oro Golden Eagles Stone Smartt (4) runs a quarterback sneak during the fourth quarter at a game between the Del Oro Golden Eagles and San Jose's Bellarmine College Prepatory School on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, at San Jose City College in San Jose. aseng@sacbee.com

For decades, there was no travel out of the area.

High school football coaches scheduled early-season games within city limits because it was convenient. Testing your mettle against an out-of-area or out-of-state opponent was as far-fetched as the spread offense.

Not now.

Nonleague games against distant competition have helped the regional brand become one of the best on the West Coast.

Top-ranked Folsom welcomed Idaho powerhouse Couer d’Alene in a season opener and delivered a 55-36 parting gift. On Friday, No. 4 Grant welcomed Oregon heavyweight Clackamas, led 17-0 early, then trailed 21-17 and then dropped a 52-24 decision on the Cavaliers.

Also Friday, No. 2 Del Oro eagerly headed to San Jose City College to take on Bellarmine, the longtime power of the Central Coast Section that beat a 14-0 Folsom team for the NorCal Division I championship last season.

Del Oro came to compete, going for two after its two touchdowns, then used a late defensive stand to prevail 16-14.

“Great opportunity for our guys to come here and play a great team,” Del Oro coach Casey Taylor said. “It feels like a playoff bowl atmosphere, a business trip.”

Folsom coach Kris Richardson appreciates games against out-of-town teams but encourages more regional contests, such as the renewal of the Folsom-Jesuit series (Folsom won a 42-28 thriller last week).

“Local games are great for area high school football,” Richardson said. “But I know it’s hard to get early games. A lot of us scramble to schedule because no one wants to play the great teams, so we take on anyone.”

Intersectional games help gauge progress. Bellarmine edged Del Oro on a late touchdown pass last season in Loomis, and both went on to win NorCal upper-division championships.

Local games are great for area high school football. But I know it’s hard to get early games. A lot of us scramble to schedule because no one wants to play the great teams, so we take on anyone.

Folsom coach Kris Richardson

A Del Oro-Bellarmine rematch could happen in the NorCal finals in December if Del Oro wins the Division I Sierra Foothill League that includes Folsom, No. 5 Rocklin and No. 6 Oak Ridge. Rocklin hosts Central Section power Clovis West next, and Oak Ridge next plays at five-time defending Nevada state champion Reed of Sparks.

Bellarmine coach Mike Janda, the head coach at his San Jose school for 33 seasons, said the new trend of intersectional play “is great for the game.” He added that Del Oro is “fabulous – big, strong, physical, fast. That’s an exceptional high school team. We think we can be pretty good, too. Time will tell.”

DLS timing – Sometimes, it’s all about timing with De La Salle, the nationally renowned juggernaut from Concord.

If the Spartans ever seemed ripe for a plundering of its winning streaks, it was this season. De La Salle returned one starter off a team that won a CIF state bowl for the sixth time in seven years. But as timing – rotten or otherwise – would have it, no Sac-Joaquin Section team has a shot to derail the Spartans’ remarkable streaks.

Del Oro returned 17 starters from its CIF State Division II-AA title team, but the series with De La Salle expired after last season and three resounding Spartans victories. St. Mary’s of Stockton may field its best team, but its longstanding series with De La Salle also expired after last season, and the Spartans field offers to compete from schools across the country.

Folsom had 14-0 seasons stamped out by De La Salle in the NorCal Open finals in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, with perhaps the best team in section history, the 16-0 Bulldogs didn’t run into De La Salle as the NorCal Open final was scrapped.

Nevada Union had dominant section title teams in 1993 and ’94 but couldn’t get De La Salle on the schedule until later in the decade when the Spartans were typically up and NU had dipped a bit.

De La Salle remains unbeaten against NorCal competition since 1991, a run of 272 games (including a 26-0 mark against section teams and a 10-0 showing against area teams). De La Salle earned its 99th consecutive victory against state competition on Friday, beating Servite in Anaheim 28-27 on a two-point conversion in the closing moments.

In the latest Cal-Hi State rankings, De La Salle is first, Folsom eighth, St. Mary’s ninth, Del Oro 10th and Elk Grove 15th. Considering there are more than 1,500 high schools in the state, this is further proof of the area’s strength. For years, it had only one or two teams in the state Top 25. Intersectional play has helped.

99Consecutive victories by De La Salle against state competition

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