Part of the fun is the unpredictability.
The Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs are supposed to be like navigating a maze. As expected, this season’s 45th annual bonanza has had its share of twists, turns, thrillers and upsets.
But Friday’s games didn’t follow that script, producing blowouts rather than battles to the finish.
In a Division I semifinal, Elk Grove thundered into Folsom with an 11-1 record, dominant lines and hard-to-stop offensive balance. Folsom devoured all of it in a 41-3 rout, placing the Bulldogs in a championship round for the seventh consecutive season.
Seeking a section five-peat, Folsom (12-1) extended its section record for consecutive playoff wins to 19. The Bulldogs also are pursuing their fourth consecutive Division I title – remarkable staying power at the section’s highest level, a tribute to the coaches, the athletes and the program.
Folsom will face St. Mary’s of Stockton, which romped past Oak Ridge 61-21 in the other D-I semifinal. To better comprehend that score, consider Folsom edged Oak Ridge 17-16 in Week 10 to decide the Sierra Foothill League championship.
St. Mary’s (12-1) gets the rematch it craved at 6 p.m. next Saturday at Sacramento State. In last season’s D-I semifinals, the Rams twice had two-touchdown leads against Folsom before falling 56-49. St. Mary’s, sporting perhaps the best team in the program’s storied history, returned a wealth of starters.
Looming in Loomis – Experience also prevailed in the foothills. Del Oro greeted a 12-0 Antelope team that had battered opponents and won every close game, including 29-28 over Grant in a D-II quarterfinal.
The Titans’ relentless force was Elijah Dotson, the section’s top running back averaging 180.8 yards a game. Dotson ran into waves of Golden Eagles defenders who allowed little wiggle room, and Del Oro (11-2) churned out 485 yards of offense in delivering a 50-10 semifinal knockout.
The defending champions seek their 11th section title since 1989 and sixth under coach Casey Taylor, who seeks his fourth CIF Bowl bid since 2011.
Stone Smartt passed for 257 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 63 yards and three scores. Dotson was held to a season-low 45 yards on 17 carries.
Del Oro’s offensive and defensive lines, featuring Israel Luna and Hunter Halverson, were dominant, as they were during the Golden Eagles’ march to the CIF State Division II-AA championship last season.
Falcons fly – Christian Brothers lost its first two games to Manteca and Jesuit, regrouped and took off. The Falcons’ 11th consecutive victory was their most impressive, 29-0 over American Canyon in a D-III semifinal.
American Canyon was averaging 50.7 points behind its running attack but couldn’t generate any momentum, and the Wolves couldn’t handle hard-charging Tyler Vander Waal in the fourth quarter.
That’s when the stout senior quarterback rushed for three scores, including a 64-yarder, to put Christian Brothers into a section final for the first time since 1986, when a young Dan Hawkins coached the Falcons. Christian Brothers won section D-I championships in 1981 under coach Craig Rundle and in 1983 under coach Jeff Tisdel, one of many standout quarterbacks to play for the Falcons.
Another was Dan Carmazzi in 1970. He’s now Christian Brothers’ coach, working closely with Vander Waal.
The Falcons (11-2) play Oakdale (11-2) for the championship Friday at Lincoln High in Stockton. The Mustangs are coached by onetime Oakdale quarterback Trent Merzon, who won D-III titles in 2012 and 2014 with powerhouse running teams.
Following Oakdale’s 35-21 semifinal win over Merced on Friday, Merzon offered insight to playoff success, mirroring the sentiment of all coaches when he said, “We spend a lot of energy for 12 months of the season working on stopping the run and running the ball. The teams winning at this time of year do those two things.”
Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD