There are no easy paths in the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs.
Each round becomes increasingly difficult, and the tension begins to tighten like a chin strap suddenly a size too small.
The margin of error is smaller, the stakes much greater with fans and followers sitting at the edge of chilly bleacher seats.
“Now, every play really counts,” said Del Oro coach Casey Taylor, whose team won the section Division II and CIF State Division II-AA championships last season. The Golden Eagles blasted Laguna Creek 79-0 in the opening round last week, pulling all starters after the first quarter.
“Can you finish a drive? Can you make a stop late? You try to find any way to advance,” Taylor continued. “It’s exciting, but it’s also scary because you know this could be the end.”
The players feel the pressure, too, and they invite it. The alternative? Not being in the playoffs or already eliminated.
“There’s so much more urgency now, more energy, more intensity,” Del Campo quarterback Tyler Dimino said. “And you don’t like that feeling that if you lose, it’s suddenly over.”
Some playoff themes to ponder:
The undefeated – Three undefeated teams remain among the section’s seven divisions: Antelope in Division II, Sonora in D-V and Bradshaw Christian in D-VI.
Antelope seeks its first title-game appearance, and Sonora and Bradshaw Christian are pursuing repeats. All three teams are run-oriented. At least one unbeaten team has won a section title in 20 of the past 22 seasons.
Folsom rolls – The Bulldogs have had a tradition of feasting under pressure. They have won 17 consecutive section playoff games, tying the famed Cordova Lancers of the 1970s for the most by a large school in section history. Folsom, which hosts Sheldon in D-I play Friday, has won 24 of its past 25 section playoff games and seeks a section championship five-peat.
Home sweet home – After playing a first-round game on the road, D-II top seed Sacramento has the green light to host Inderkum on Saturday after giving its home field a makeover and assuring the section it will have enough seating – a minimum of 1,000. Dragons players, coaches and parents applied a lot of tender loving care to the field on the Oak Park campus Saturday.
Home delight – Del Oro has lost just one playoff game under coach Taylor in his 15 seasons in Loomis. The Golden Eagles’ last postseason loss was in 2014 to Vacaville, 35-28 in the second round. Del Oro hosts Vacaville on Friday.
Generation gap – Robert Dotson will have mixed emotions Friday, pulling for his son to produce another big outing while reflecting fondly on the opponent.
Dotson was a 2,000-yard rusher for Grant’s first section championship team in 1992. His son, Elijah, could eclipse 2,000 yards for Antelope against Grant in a D-II game if he maintains his per-game average. Young Dotson has rushed for 1,883 yards.
D-I dominance – Elk Grove, seeded fourth in D-I and led by quarterback Jayden Machado and wide receiver Gavin Reinwald, hosts Turlock, winners of nine consecutive games, on Friday. The Modesto-Turlock-Merced region has not produced a D-I champion since Merced in 1990. Sacramento-area teams have won 20 titles since 1990.
Holy cow – There will be a Holy Bowl feel Saturday at Jesuit when the Marauders host Central Catholic of Modesto in D-II. Both schools play in early season Holy Bowls, Jesuit against Christian Brothers, and Central Catholic against St. Mary’s. This will be the first time Jesuit and Central Catholic have met in football.
Rematch revelry – One game seemingly destined to go to the wire is the D-IV contest between Center and Placer, rivals from the Pioneer Valley League. Center beat Placer 24-20 in the 2013 playoffs, and Placer edged the Cougars 16-15 this season.