New coach, new cast of players – same tradition and familiar results.
The Del Oro Golden Eagles needed a Week 10 victory just to ensure a berth in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs, and then they needed a booming 53-yard field goal on the final play by unsung football hero Ryan Whalley last week to keep the season alive.
So what happened Friday night in Natomas?
Smooth sailing for the two-time defending champions, who delivered a decisive knockout blow to second-seeded Inderkum, whisking away the Tigers’ 11-0 record and array of big-time athletes with its own brand of smash-mouth and discipline.
Carson Jarratt hit Matt Smart for scoring strikes of 40 and 41 yards, and Brice Edwards scooted, sprinted and rumbled for 211 yards and scored on runs of 13 and 1 yards for a 26-7 victory on Friday night in a game expected to be much closer.
Instead, it was familiar to what Del Oro did to the Tigers last December at Sacramento State when the Golden Eagles rolled 35-13 to win the program’s 12th section title since 1989, their fifth of the decade. The five banners since 2010 came under the watch of coach Casey Taylor, who left Loomis for a new challenge at Capital Christian.
In came Jeff Walters, a bundle of fire and personality and an alum of the program who has called his full-circle return to Placer County “a dream come true.”
That dream turned nightmarish on Monday when Del Oro principal Dan Gayaldo and Walters agreed that the first-year coach would sit out the Inderkum contest as a way to show accountability for the program’s otherwise salty look against Lincoln. Walters and his coaching staff were at times livid and demonstrative during and after the Lincoln game, the emotions roaring to a boil amid 26 penalties for 305 yards.
Walters was camped out in the Del Oro coaching offices on Friday night, where he said he would “tidy up my desk to stay busy,” though his father and two brothers were on the Del Oro sideline offering updates. Bill Sherman coached in place of Walters, and the Del Oro staff called a terrific game, be it Dan Gazzaniga’s offensive line controlling the trenches or defensive coordinator Steve Birch’s defense refusing to let the Tigers break enough big plays to threaten in the first three quarters as Del Oro has traditionally fared well against wing-T teams big on deception and run plays.
Sherman was a Del Oro defensive star in 2005, The Bee’s Defensive Player of the Year who played at Sacramento State, so he bleeds and bruises Del Oro colors. He was nervous before the game, per the mood of any coach, but Sherman said he liked his team’s chances if they continued to do what they do best: compete. Sherman was doused by players with water, relieved just to win it.
Del Oro is quite used to winning this time of year, having won 10 consecutive section playoff games and 25 of 27 this decade.
Inderkum has won 10 or more games in 11 consecutive seasons and has reached four section title games without winning one, so the Tigers are still eager for that breakthrough.
Del Oro (7-5) looked the part of a team used to a good scrap, a program seasoned by the rigors of a Sierra Foothill League that includes the top two seeds in the Division I playoffs (Folsom and Oak ridge) and the No. 1 seed in D-II (Granite Bay). Inderkum was rarely tested in the regular season.
Del Oro caught the attention of Inderkum coach Terry Stark a year ago, who said admiringly then, “We call them the University of Del Oro because it’s been such a great program, a real standard of how to play the game the right way. They’ve been a great program forever.”
Stark was pained by the section title loss to Del Oro and miffed that his team didn’t play better in the rematch.
He said Friday, “Losses always sit with you. You feel for the kids. But it won’t ruin my life. Del Oro is really good. They’re so battle tested. It’s the best defense we’ve seen – 11 dudes in great shape who get after it.”
The dudes include the two lone returning players from last season’s team who played for a state championship in back-to-back seasons: linebacker Andrew Birch, son of the defensive coordinator, and defensive back Dawson Hurst.
The Del Oro defense collectively earned a game ball in shutting down a prolific team that includes recruits with offers from Alabama (Isaah Crocker). Del Oro’s defense was a team effort with linemen Wyatt Berry, Brady Fernandez and Tatuo Martinson and linebackers Trevor Johnson, Charlie Rogers and Carson Westlake.
Said coordinator Steve Birch, “wow.”