Three storied regional football programs are at the brink, needing victories in one or both of their final two regular season games to keep tradition alive and kicking.
Del Oro, Elk Grove and Grant have combined to win 22 Sac-Joaquin Section championships in 32 title-game appearances spanning Divisions I, II and III since 1989, but each is reeling. None are ranked this week by The Bee, and each is scrambling for some semblance of personal pride with plenty of time left to salvage seasons.
Del Oro and Elk Grove have new coaches who expected challenges, and Grant has a frustrated old one in Mike Alberghini, who has led 26 consecutive playoff teams, an ongoing section record.
Del Oro reached a CIF State final in each of the past two seasons but has a young team under coach Jeff Walters. The Golden Eagles are 4-5, including close losses to No. 5 Granite Bay (28-21) and to No. 7 Rocklin (22-12) in Sierra Foothill League action. Del Oro closes the regular season against Woodcreek after a bye this week.
Del Oro went 4-6 in 2015 and won the state title, so it can be done.
Elk Grove is 4-4 in its first year under coach John Heffernan after a 48-7 loss to surging Monterey Trail, The Bee’s No. 12 team. The Thundering Herd has been thinned by injuries, including losing quarterback Jake Jordan to a knee strain, and they closes the Delta League schedule against No. 9 Franklin and No. 8 Sheldon.
Grant is 3-5 with just one Delta League victory, over Pleasant Grove.
Teams need at least two league wins to qualify for the section playoffs, and 5-5 and 4-6 teams have advanced to the postseason. The Delta advanced six teams to the playoffs last season and the SFL four, though five could go this year.
Hammered by injuries and mistakes, the Pacers close the league slate against winless Davis and No. 6 Jesuit, the lone Delta unbeaten and winners of six consecutive games after losing to No. 1 Folsom and No. 5 Granite Bay.
Record breaker – Gunnor Faulk of Christian Brothers threw four touchdowns Friday in a 52-12 victory over El Camino, giving him 29 for the season with two regular-season games and the playoffs still to go.
The senior has the school’s single-season record for scoring passes, breaking the mark of 27 by Braeden Bourke in 2015.
Christian Brothers has produced standout passers for decades, from Dan Carmazzi to Jeff Tisdel to Mike Quinn to Kevin McKechnie. The Falcons are 6-2 and Faulk has favorite targets in Oregon-bound tight end Spencer Webb (15 touchdowns) and junior Tyler Green (11).
Linemen leaders – No. 3 Inderkum clinched its 11th Tri-County Conference title in 12 years, and sixth in succession, under coach Terry Stark after downing No. 16 River Valley 25-20, and there were accolades to the linemen given by line coach Tod Hamasaki.
The Tigers in the trenches are: Joel Contreras, Preston Doyle, Brandon Knott, Victor Matteucci, Chase Peterson and Chris Roberts.
Huskies haulers – At Sheldon, the Huskies beat Grant 30-27 on three Jack Dolinar field goals and more steady line play from Elias Abilez, Koby Barrett, Nick Garcia, Louie Lewis and Jack Middleton. The position coach is Dale Ellingsworth, who said of those in the trenches, “Every play for a lineman is like a fist fight in a phone booth. You’re going toe-to-toe on every snap.”
Mustangs maulers – At Monterey Trail, the Mustangs have relied on linemen to beat Grant and Elk Grove in successive weeks with Jesuit looming. Monterey Trail’s line: Noah Casarez, Wayne Doroen, Brandon Hwa, Arturo Pantoja, Daniel and Gabriel Ramirez, and Lathun Snipes.
The position coach is T.J. Ewing, who’s also the head coach. He stresses effort and receives it, the mantra being this: win the trenches and win the games.