The coaches stood at midfield and admired the turf, the stadium seats, the scoreboard.
They soaked in every bit of the storied venue that once housed everything from Pink Floyd and the Doobie Brothers to seemingly every imaginable sporting event, football especially.
Hughes Stadium means something to Dave Humphers and Brennan McFadden, the co-coaches at River Valley High School who are not lacking in energy or memory recall. Here, on the Sacramento City College campus, the coaches reflected on some blissful good memories. When Humphers was coaching at Nevada Union in 2005, he rejoiced in a rout of rival Grant in the Division I City Championship game, one of his star lineman soaking in the mud and muck being McFadden.
“Oh, I’m smiling — it’s such a great place here,” Humphers said with a laugh well before kickoff on Friday night.
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Hours later, Humphers and McFadden were giddy again, basking in a moment of school history. In rolling past Sacramento 40-14 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff opener, the Falcons of Yuba City registered the program’s first playoff victory, taking apart a program that has played football since the 1930s.
Opened since 2005, River Valley had gone 0-4 in the postseason, including last season. There is nothing quite like a resounding playoff effort to serve notice that the Falcons have officially arrived.
Niko Tejada was the man of the hour for the Falcons (6-5). Also a baseball star, Tejada scored on runs of 3, 5 and 3 yards, and he returned a fumble 35 yards into the end zone. Rex Baker added scoring runs of 2 and 27 yards, quarterback star Dawson McPeak was again steady, and the River Valley defense would not let the prolific Dragons (5-6) get going.
The Falcons were crisp, efficient and motivated, a superbly conditioned and coached team suddenly looking the part of a team ready to topple the bracket. If the coaches were looking for a coming-out party this season, this was it.
It all leads to a road trip and a showdown at 10-0 Merced next Friday night. Humphers knows the Merced brand, too.
As defensive coordinator for Nevada Union in 1989 and ’90, the Miners lost intense D-I section title games to Merced when the Bears and inspirational coach Mark Speckman fielded some of the best teams in section history. By the time Humphers was finished as head coach at NU, he had directed some of the best teams in section history, too, including championship teams in 1993, 1994, 2005 and 2009.
Humphers and his famed fishing cap that for years has honored his Mira Loma High mentor Gerry Kundert jumped at the chance to join McFadden as co-coach two years ago at River Valley, eager for a change of scenery and new challenges.
That showed that McFadden had no ego. The man knew adding a coach, mentor, teacher and winner like Humphers was, “a no-brainer.”
River Valley practice sessions and pre-game drills are energized and spirited, matching the pep and fire of the coaches. The culture of success hasn’t just been introduced to the Falcons, it’s now firmly embedded. Players celebrated by throwing ice in the air and mobbing their coaches, and then they addressed their fans with jumping jacks and good cheer.
In time, Falcons players may grow to appreciate what they did on Friday, and the venue in which it achieved school history.
Hughes Stadium is a regional treasure. The 49ers played exhibition games in the stadium in the 1950s and ’60, and the Oakland Raiders won their first-ever game here, a 1960 exhibition victory.
The stadium opened in 1928, and it has included historic Olympic qualifying track meets with world records, championship boxing matches, the Pig Bowl, the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League, soccer, midget car races and football of all levels. In the 1970s and ’80s, rock concerts were the norm, including Eagles, Sammy Hagar, Willie Nelson and Rod Stewart.
The largest crowd in Hughes history was the 42,000-plus that packed in to see the Doobie Brothers rock on in 1981. Friday, the Falcons got into a their own groove.