The finish line is within reach, but Friday only marks the first lap of a championship chase that could stretch six weeks.
The regular-season finale will crown league champions and align others in a postseason seedings pecking order. A Sac-Joaquin Section committee will crunch the data – wins, losses, strength of league, etc. – on Saturday afternoon in Lodi to determine all playoff seeds.
That tournament runs up to four weeks for Division I and II, and those fortunate enough to win those title games will advance to CIF Northern California Regional championship rounds.
More immediate is the league championships to be decided. For the first time this season, rain could be part of the picture.
Bee No. 1 Folsom heads to El Dorado Hills to face No. 2 Oak Ridge to decide the Sierra Foothill League championship and the top seed in the D-I playoffs.
Folsom has four local losses this decade in a remarkable show of staying power that, since 2010, includes six league championships, five section banners, two CIF State crowns and two 14-0 seasons that ended in NorCal Open Division losses to national power De La Salle.
Oak Ridge is fully aware of the Folsom pedigree, having lost 10 in a row to its rival. But the Trojans fear no team or challenge, though they respect all opponents, especially Folsom.
“We tell our players it will not take some kind of superhuman effort to win,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. “They only need to play to their abilities the way they are coached and good things will happen.
“This group knows they can win and that is the difference maker.”
The Capital Athletic League championship will be decided between host Vista del Lago, ranked 19th, and No. 12 Christian Brothers. The teams played for the title in each of the past two seasons, splitting the goods.
Both expect to be seeded high in the D-III playoffs.
The Pioneer Valley League championship boils down to host Placer, ranked 14th, and No. 13 Lincoln. Placer captured its first league title in 1903, and has won banners in nearly every successive decade, including the last five in the PVL.
In the small-school ranks, Bradshaw Christian has clinched at least a share of another Sierra Delta League championship, but Highlands can nab a piece of it with a win over the Pride.
Desperation mode – Three storied programs need wins Friday to ensure any shot at the playoffs.
Grant (4-5) hosts No. 6 Jesuit in Del Paso Heights, motivated to reach the playoffs for an ongoing section record 27th consecutive time, all under famed coach Mike Alberghini. The Pacers have made the playoffs 33 times.
Elk Grove (5-4) might need a victory to lock up its 32nd playoff spot, though it could still slip in with a loss. The Thundering Herd hosts Sheldon, which could become the Delta League co-champion with a win and a loss by Jesuit. The Marauders have already clinched at least a share of the league crown.
Del Oro (4-5) has to beat Woodcreek to maintain any hope of advancing to the postseason for the 28th time. Del Oro’s strength of schedule, especially the rigors of SFL play that includes Folsom, Oak Ridge, Granite Bay and Rocklin, will help its cause, but the Golden Eagles only have one league win and two are needed to be playoff eligible.
Stat marvels – Kaiden Bennett of Folsom and Derek Shelton of Sacramento lead the section with 31 touchdown passes.
▪ Dominick Norris leads the section with 1,755 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.
▪ Alvin Banks of Cordova leads the section with 1,103 yards receiving, followed by James Sweet of Lincoln with 1,100. They have 13 and 15 touchdowns, respectively.
Unsung stopper – Jordan Jenkins has quietly played big for Mesa Verde, averaging 14.1 tackles in eight games, and he has the attention of his coach, Justin Llorente, one of the greatest players to come out of the program before playing at Sacramento State.
Said Llorente, “He’s very naturally gifted athletically, humble, respectful, loyal, a natural leader.”