Football can be more than blocking and tackling, touchdown drives and goal-line stops.
How about lasting memories beyond a brothers-in-arms feel?
In an upward trend of late, regional teams have lined up ambitious early schedules with the purpose of seizing any semblance of a playoff atmosphere while testing their teams against schemes and skill.
On Friday, Folsom High School ventured to Oakdale in a meeting of regional powers. Top ranked by The Sacramento Bee, the Bulldogs outlasted The Modesto Bee’s No. 1 team 45-29 at The Corral, a setting that has to be witnessed to fully appreciate.
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The place was bursting with energy. Oakdale prides its agriculture roots, right on down to hand-painted signs on the bleacher railing, “Cowboy Capital of the World.”
Folsom coach Kris Richardson and Oakdale coach Trent Merzon jumped at the chance to make this game happen – memories with more at stake than the final score. Folsom was supposed to win, the larger-division program facing the smaller-division one, but the Bulldogs were challenged, which they needed after two early routs. And Oakdale, a defending CIF State champion, learned it can compete against a team of considerable speed, skill, defensive ability and line prowess.
It all bodes well for the region. It’s good for the Sac-Joaquin Section, which has never been stronger. Folsom handed Oakdale its first home loss since 2013 and seventh in its last 88 at The Corral.
“They’re so explosive and so well coached,” Merzon said of Folsom. “They’re everything people say they are.”
Said Richardson, “Great atmosphere. Incredible effort by Oakdale. Coach Merzon had his guys ready to go.”
The coaches, now friends, will pull for each other from here on out as the respect runs deep.
Big vs. small – On the ambitious scheduling theme, No. 9 Capital Christian offered up a state-fair setting in Rosemont for Grant in the most anticipated game in Cougars history. Grant is used to such contests as one of the marquee programs in the state.
Capital has players who have the attention of college recruiters in two-way starters Evan Bennett, Maurice Gaines, Trey Jones and D’Marcus Ross, but the Cougars discovered that the Pacers can hit, can run and can chase you down, winning 19-0 behind UCLA-bound lineman Nitu Liu and grinder back Deshaun Pryor, who rushed for two scores.
The game was chippy – the teams combined for nine personal fouls – but the lasting image is the last one. Players and coaches shook hands and embraced when the game was over. Five Pacers found Cougars star Christian Simmons, sidelined with a broken leg, and offered hugs and best wishes.
More scheduling – No. 11 Sheldon hosted unbeaten Reno, ranked No. 7 in the state, and trailed by 21 before making a game of it, falling 28-21.
Reno was led by all-purpose star Brandon Kaho, whose scholarship offers include Alabama. Sheldon may not see an athlete that dynamic the rest of the season.
More Nevada – No. 3 Oak Ridge will host Nevada state-ranked No. 5 Reed on Friday, eager to halt the Raiders’ momentum. Reed has dropped 50 or more points on Oak Ridge in winning the last two meetings between the programs in shootouts.
Small-school vibe – The cross-sectional fun also includes the small schools.
East Nicolaus of the Northern Section – and state champions in 2015 – beat multiple Sac-Joaquin Section titlist Bradshaw Christian 24-21 behind Gavin McAuliff’s three touchdowns.
St. Mary’s shocker – With section-ranked No. 1 St. Mary’s of Stockton falling 20-7 to Central Catholic of Modesto in the 209 version of the Holy Bowl, Folsom will become the second-ranked team in Northern California by Cal-Hi Sports and MaxPreps, behind De La Salle. The Spartans of Concord extended their amazing unbeaten streak against NorCal foes – north of Fresno – to 283 since 1991 with a 31-7 win over Saint Francis of Mountain View.
De La Salle was the last team to drop this sort of defensive effort on St. Mary’s, shutting out the Rams in 2011.
Central Catholic won state small-school titles and moved up to Division II last season. The Raiders, clearly, are still formidable, adding to the depth of the section. So is St. Mary’s, which dethroned four-time defending section champion Folsom in the section finals last season. The Rams play at Cosumnes Oaks on Friday and host national No. 1 Mater Dei of Santa Ana on Sept. 23.
Tackling machine – Hunter Gonzalez of No. 6 Rocklin has 39 tackles in three games, all wins. The senior linebacker made 12 solo stops in a 40-22 triumph of Whitney in another energized Quarry Bowl. He had 15 tackles in a 24-14 opening win over Grant. Gonzalez is also a standout wrestler, a firm believer in maximizing his sporting experience.
Matador moment – Sam Justo has the gusto to give Mira Loma a fighting chance, and the struggling program is on the rise. Justo rushed for 225 yards and four touchdowns in a 40-34 win over previously unbeaten Natomas, giving the Matadors a 2-1 record. Under fiery yet popular coach Toby Thurman, Mira Loma is a win away from matching last season’s victory total.
A powerhouse in decades past, Mira Loma endured 0-10 seasons in 2013, ’14 and ’15.