Joe Davidson

Upstart high school football programs making noise in league title races

Cordova seeks a Sierra Valley Conference repeat after reaching the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, thanks in part to quarterback Johnele Sanders (11).
Cordova seeks a Sierra Valley Conference repeat after reaching the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, thanks in part to quarterback Johnele Sanders (11). Special to The Bee

A good part of the intrigue of any football season is when the upstarts make some noise.

It’s loud out there this year.

River Valley of Yuba City entered the season unranked, barged into The Bee’s Top 20 amid a 5-0 start then was floored Friday by another upstart in new No. 17 Woodland.

The Wolves stunned the Falcons 42-27 in Tri-County Conference action for the season’s biggest upset to date. That would be upstaged if Woodland could upend No. 3 Inderkum in Natomas on Friday.

Rio Americano is 5-1 under first-year coach Sammie Stroughter, who has his team believing it can move mountains.

The Raiders would make a major move into the rankings if they upset No. 14 Christian Brothers on Friday at Del Campo High School, Rio’s adopted home field to garner some night-time atmosphere to contrast the otherwise drab and searing hot Saturday afternoon setting.

Rio players have bought into Stroughter, the one-time Granite Bay and Oregon State star who played receiver briefly in the NFL.

“He is very committed and he is changing the culture of Rio Americano football,” Raiders tight end/linebacker Jordan Baker said.

Winning has also impacted the campus and, perhaps, even incoming freshmen who are impressionable, Rio defensive end James Vine said. “I’m positive kids will begin to come to Rio for the sole purpose of playing for our football program.”

Rio has also been led by quarterback Maximus Davis.

Christian Brothers and Vista del Lago have owned the Capital Athletic League of late, with CB beating the defending champion Eagles last season in Week 10 to take the league title.

Big Red surge – Cordova eyes a Sierra Valley Conference repeat and is 4-2 overall under third-year coach Darren Nill, a testament to the resolve of the program after losing two star players from last season (one transfered and the other quit playing).

The Lancers were a powerhouse with no peers in the 1970s and ’80s before a decline, then rose again under famed coach Max Miller last decade.

Cordova last season made the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons and won its first league title since 1981.

The Lancers have one of the state’s most prolific pass-catch combinations. Johnele Sanders has passed for 1,425 yards and 17 touchdowns (and he’s rushed for eight scores), hitting Alvin Banks 37 times for a Sac-Joaquin Section-leading 844 yards and 13 TDs.

Small school, big wonders – Western Sierra Academy is 5-1 and in the running with Woodland Christian, also 5-1, for the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League title. The teams play Friday in Yolo County.

The Rocklin-based Wolves started football in 2015 and limped home at a badly beaten 0-9, then went 4-6 last season. Third-year coach JP Dolliver has a team led by Aiden Lucia (1,208 yards passing, 14 touchdowns), Joseph Martinez (392 yards rushing, 10 scores) and receivers Chris Delaloye (five touchdowns) and Brandon Adams (five scores).

None of these players are seniors.

Woodland Christian has gone from meager beginnings, going 1-7, 0-9, 1-8 and 2-8 in its first four seasons, starting in 2007. The Cardinals reached the playoffs three times under coach Bruce Pielstick, Sacramento State’s offensive coordinator in the late 1990s, and now seek their fourth successive postseason bid under coach Mark Johnson, the one-time UC Davis assistant coach.

Woodland Christian has rushed for 24 touchdowns, including 10 from Eric Wyatt and five each from Isaiah Maldonado-Hiett and Cooper Johnson.

Stat marvels – Adrian Torres of 4-3 Natomas is second in the section in passing yards with 1,910 and is the section leader with 25 touchdown passes, one more than Kaiden Bennett of top-ranked Folsom, according to statistics provided by schools to MaxPreps.

Bennett has 1,844 passing yards for the 6-0 Bulldogs, who have played the toughest schedule in the section, including wins over Jesuit when the Marauders were ranked third, Granite Bay when the Grizzlies were No. 2, then-No. 6 Sacramento and Oakdale, still The Modesto Bee’s top-ranked large school.

Dominick Norris leads the section with 1,136 rushing yards for 3-3 Vista del Lago, and has 11 touchdowns. Dawson Fay of 2-5 Nevada Union has 892 yards and seven scores. Oscar Sanchez of 5-1 Woodland has 885 yards, including 218 and four scores against River Valley in earning a Bee Prep of the Week nomination. He has 14 touchdowns.

Steven Fox of 4-2 El Dorado has 867 yards and 11 touchdowns.

James Sweet of 5-1 Lincoln is second in the section with 740 receiving yards and has nine touchdowns. Joe Ngata of Folsom has 706 yards and seven touchdowns and Nick Barnes of River Valley has 661 and eight scores.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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