Joe Davidson

Small schools benefit from CIF football playoff expansion

Coach Travis Barker (center) oversees a East Nicolaus football practice last December before his team went on to win a state championship. The Spartans will play a Northern California Regional game Saturday against McClymonds of Oakland.
Coach Travis Barker (center) oversees a East Nicolaus football practice last December before his team went on to win a state championship. The Spartans will play a Northern California Regional game Saturday against McClymonds of Oakland. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Last year, the East Nicolaus High School Spartans embraced the nine-hour bus ride to San Diego to cap their football season.

Players and coaches went to the beach the day before facing Coronado for the CIF State Division VI-AA championship. The Spartans then became the first Northern Section team to win a state football title, beating Coronado 16-6 for the biggest athletic achievement in the history of the Sutter County school.

We’re so excited. This is awesome. We’re not afraid to play anyone. Our kids want to play the toughest teams.

Travis Barker, East Nicolaus coach

Riding a 24-game winning streak, East Nicolaus is preparing for another run at history. The Spartans (13-0) won’t have to travel nearly as far and won’t have any beaches to invade when they face McClymonds (11-1) of Oakland on Saturday night for the Northern California Regional Division 5-A championship at Chabot College in Hayward.

East Nicolaus features dual-threat quarterback Steven Brown, who has passed for 1,584 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 1,379 yards and 14 scores. Nolan Goyet, a star on last season’s team, has rushed for 1,472 yards and 28 touchdowns and made 10.5 sacks, all team highs.

“We’re so excited,” said East Nicolaus coach and alumnus Travis Barker. “This is awesome. We’re not afraid to play anyone. Our kids want to play the toughest teams. Nolan is so physical, a Tom Rathman type, and he's just a great player at our level. And Brown makes such great plays, he makes us all look good.”

Also in the NorCal field are Sutter (13-0), which visits Oakdale (12-2) on Saturday for the Division 3-A championship game, and Capital Christian (11-2), which visits Bishop O’Dowd (13-1) of Oakland on Friday for the Division 5-AA title.

When the CIF last season expanded the playoffs to include Northern and Southern California Regional finals, the biggest benefactors were the small schools. Before expansion, the state’s 10 commissioners debated which teams should advance. Small schools often were left out. So the format has grown from six to 13 divisions.

Some might argue that’s too many.

“No, it’s not diluted,” CIF executive director Roger Blake said. “There are different levels of competitiveness. None of us can compare our Open Division to our Division 5 or 6. It’s a significant difference in their abilities. But for those kids that are playing, they’re participating at the level that fits them, fits their team. For them, it’s a championship and a lifetime memory. That’s a big part of our goal.”

He’s been great, our leader. We win with this guy.

Ron Gerringer, Capital Christian coach, on quarterback Jake Norville

Capital gains – Jake Norville of Capital Christian has quietly produced a spectacular career. The four-year varsity starting quarterback has helped the Cougars win two Sac-Joaquin Section championships and now has a shot at bringing the program its first NorCal and state banners.

This season, Norville has passed for 2,304 yards and 23 touchdowns for a team that relies heavily on the run. D’Marcus Ross has rushed for 1,380 yards and 24 touchdowns, Julian Leslie 801 yards and nine scores and Christian Simmons 600 yards and nine touchdowns.

Norville passed for 222 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-30 victory over unbeaten Sonora in a section D-V semifinal. In a nine-game stretch since Sept. 23, he has thrown just two interceptions. For his career, Norville has passed for 6,403 yards and 75 touchdowns and Capital Christian is 44-6.

“He’s been great, our leader,” coach Ron Gerringer said. “We win with this guy.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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