Jacob Rhea tried to do the right then, then did the wrong thing, and then came through when his football world was about to come crashing down on him.
Rhea, one of the Del Campo High School senior captains, let loose, sprinting across the field in jubilation after drilling an extra point in the fourth overtime to cap an wild and exhaustive 49-48 victory over Sacramento on Friday night in as good a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff game as you can imagine.
The Cougars (12-0) lived to see another day after Rhea’s late gaffe in regulation nearly derailed things. Now Del Campo plays at top-seeded Granite Bay in a Division II semifinal.
In an effort to run out as much clock as possible, Rhea was instructed to take a safety from his own end zone in punt formation. He ran and scrambled, and his momentum carried him not to the turf but to the 1-yard line, a 28-21 sure-thing victory suddenly in doubt. Sacramento scored to force overtime, and Rhea later was able to laugh about what would have been a brutal lasting memory in Cougars colors.
“Coach told me to run around a little and then run out of the end zone, but it was our first time doing it,” Rhea said moments after the Cougars fans stormed the field in celebration. “I was frazzled. As soon as that happened at the 1, I immediately came to the sideline, dropped my helmet and punched the bench thinking that I messed up for my whole team and our undefeated run.”
Rhea said he thought of his late grandfather, looking down proudly on him, and he joked about what his rushing role is from here on out.
“One thing I know, I won’t be running around in the end zone with the ball anymore. I’ll let our running backs do that.”
Fans went to social media to blast Del Campo for the punt attempt, and coaches already eliminated from playoff contention also took shots. Everyone’s an expert, in other words.
Del Campo coach Mike Dimino said he would have been the reason if his team lost, not Rhea.
“I told (Rhea) when (Dragons defenders) get close to you, fall down or take a knee,” Dimino said, then adding with a laugh, “I think he was excited because he had the football and he’s been wanting to play running back all year. He’s a heck of a kicker. He’s one of the best, most courageous players I have. He’s mentally strong, too.”
So is Dimino’s son, Tyler, who overcame a bad interception to play some of the best football of his young life, scrambling, making plays, moving the team into the end zone.
SFL strength – The Sierra Foothill League is still standing strong with three of its four teams still alive after Rocklin fell at powerhouse Central Catholic of Modesto 42-18 in a D-II quarterfinal.
In D-I, Folsom and Oak Ridge rolled, the No. 1 Bulldogs beating Tracy 56-21 and the No. 2 Trojans bouncing previously unbeaten Gregori of Modesto 49-14.
In D-II, top-seeded Granite Bay won 37-0 over Antelope, which was 10-1 coming in, and No. 7 Del Oro won 26-7 over second-seeded Inderkum, which entered 11-0, as Brice Edwards rushed for 211 yards and two scores to give interim coach Bill Sherman an inspired victory. Sherman coached in place of Jeff Walters, who volunteered to sit this one out as punishment for his team’s rabid coaching behavior during and after an opening-round 16-14 win against Lincoln, something Walters said he “will learn from and grow from.”
It pays to be battle tested as none of the teams the SFL heavies defeated compete in a league or nonleague nearly as taxing.
Folsom is a win away from reaching a section final for the eighth consecutive season, and Oak Ridge aims for its third section final since 2012. Del Oro is the two-time defending D-II champion and visits No. 3 Central Catholic (10-1), which has four CIF State crowns this decade.
Central Catholic won state titles as a smaller school but has been moved up in division due to sustained success. As far as section banners, this is a program that has walls full of them, having won a section-best blue banners, mostly in lower divisions.
“You get moved up and people don’t know how hard it is to keep the ship afloat, especially when you get moved up to Division II,” Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa told The Modesto Bee. “I think Division II is the hardest there is.”
And proof that there is big-time talent at the smallest-school level: Dauson Booker. The shifty tailback for Central Catholic rushed for 200 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, including a 93-yard kickoff return.
Fisticuffs – The Granite Bay-Antelope game did not go without incident.
There were eight personal fouls in the first half as both teams engaged in the chippy affair, and referees filed a report to the Northern California Officials Association – the management arm for local officiating.
A brief video clip submitted to the NCOA showed five Antelope players launching on a downed Granite Bay player on the sideline, including two Titans throwing punches and one kicking at his helmet.
Three players were ejected, including one for Granite Bay, meaning he will not play against Del Campo. Antelope is sure to discipline the Titans combatants as the school has been known to do the right thing since opening in 2008.
Jenner time – Oak Ridge has remarkable quarterback depth as Matt Jenner has admirably stepped in for injured star Marco Baldacchino.
A 6-foot-3 junior, Jenner passed for 302 yards and six touchdowns in a 63-12 opening-round win over Lincoln of Stockton, and he passed for 177 and five against Gregori – all without throwing an interception.
Jenner has good genes. His father, Scott, quarterbacked Cordova to an 11-0 season in 1975 and a national No. 1 finish when the Lancers led the country in victories that decade. Jenner was an ace wishbone quarterback and watched with glee as his son’s 11 scoring passes in two playoff games exceeded what he tossed all of 1975.