They woke up the ghosts Friday night at Hughes Stadium, echoes and images reverberating off the cinder-block walls.
Alums for Christian Brothers and Cordova squeezed into decades-old lettermen’s jackets and exchanged friendly banter, comparing scores and war stories from the trenches.
And this Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff opener between storied programs had a throwback feel early, too, as there were more punts than touchdowns in the first half before the fireworks hit.
Christian Brothers prevailed 30-20 behind Tyler Vander Waal’s four touchdown passes to kick-start a new era of playoff drama at the venerable venue at Sacramento City College while gashing open old wounds to their rivals.
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CB improved to 3-0 all-time against Cordova in the playoffs, none of them easy to digest for the Lancers’ followers. The first two playoff wins came in the 1983 and 1986 City Championship games after Cordova won regular-season meetings for the Metro League title.
“Lot of history between these programs, and that makes it so neat,” Christian Brothers assistant coach Al Hooker said before the game.
Christian Brothers (9-2) is riding a nine-game winning streak behind the strong-armed Vander Waal, a steady offensive line and a defense that makes just enough stops.
Vander Waal had scoring strikes of 47 and 35 yards to Tyler Green, 4 yards to Jack O’Hearn and of 15 yards to Spencer Webb. Green also had two first-half interceptions and one in the fourth quarter from his defensive-back post.
While Christian Brothers is in the postseason for the 10th time since 2005, this was the first playoff showing for the Lancers in 10 years, coming off their first league championship in 25 seasons. Cordova set the area bar in football excellence, leading the country in victories in the 1970s and the region in wins in the 1980s, but the 1990s and 2000s were not kind as declining enrollment, changing demographics and the closure of Mather Air Force Base contributed to the collapse of a dynasty.
There’s a rebirth now under second-year coach Darren Nill. And Cordova still knows how to milk a moment. The Lancers (8-3) used their throwback jerseys, white with red trim, and their classic helmets.
Xavier Johnson led the Lancers as a dual-threat quarterback. He had a 29-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Banks, and his twisting, turning 11-yard touchdown run pulled Cordova within 30-20 with 3:57 to play.
Cordova tailback Deante McCullough evoked more ghosts by rushing for 170 yards, including a 70-yard burst on the Lancers’ first play in the second half. He wears jersey No. 21, made famous by Cordova’s most accomplished prep star. Kevin Willhite wore that number in 1980 and ’81 for Cordova when he earned multiple National Player of the Year honors as one of the most canonized and heavily recruited athletes in section history. Willhite in ’81 tore off 80-yard touchdown runs at Hughes and after showering would be whisked away in private jets for recruiting trips to places such as Notre Dame.
Cordova won the first four section Division I championships, including City Championship games at Hughes. An assistant coach on those famed Lancers teams was Ron Kerkes, now an assistant at CB, where being seasoned, creaky, wobbly, gray and old is fashionable. Hooker is in his 58th year of regional coaching, Dave Hoskins in his 50th and head coach Dan Carmazzi in his 40th.
“We’ve got more than 200 years combined coaching, and we still love it,” said Hooker, who, as a young boy would sneak into Hughes Stadium to watch the 49ers play exhibition games in the 1950s. “We don’t coach for the money or ego. We do it because the kids are fun.”
Winning is fun, too, any era.