For decades, debates have raged on about who plays the best high school football in Northern California.
Is it the Bay Area? The Sacramento region? Teams around Fresno?
The CIF Northern California Regional championships have allowed a lot of that discussion to play out on the field since 2012. That’s when the state’s governing body introduced regional play.
De La Salle of of Concord has owned the field pretty much since 1984, going 382-5-2 against Northern California competition, including a 299-game unbeaten streak on teams north of Fresno since 1991. De La Salle beat Folsom in NorCal Open Division title games in 2012 and 2013, a concept since dropped.
The rest of the Bay Area has met its match in Sacramento-area teams. Granite Bay beat St. Ignatius of San Francisco for a NorCal crown in 2012 and Del Oro downed Serra of San Mateo in a NorCal contest in 2013.
Also, Folsom topped Fresno’s top team in Central last season in a NorCal final. The rematch is Friday night for Division I-AA honors, this time in Fresno.
“We have great football in our area,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said. “It just seems to get better.”
Breaking down the Sacramento area’s NorCal games:
Folsom (12-1) at Central (13-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday — A year later, it will still come down to the quarterbacks. Kaiden Bennett led Folsom past Central and star QB Trent Tompkins in this title game a year ago, passing for 306 yards and four touchdowns, three to Joe Ngata, while running for a score. Tompkins had 355 passing yards and three TDs. Bennett is headed to Boise State and Tompkins to UC Davis after setting scores of Central Section marks, including most yards and most touchdown passes in a season (4,519 and 60) and career passing yards (11,261). Folsom’s first-string defense has been dominant this season, a unit led by lineman Tyler Hardeman and defensive back Caleb Nelson.
Saint Francis (11-2) at Del Oro (12-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday — Traditional powers collide in what figures to be a thriller. Del Oro won a state title in 2015 and nearly repeated in 2016, and Saint Francis of Mountain View reached a state final in 2016 and won a title last season. The Golden Eagles will test one of the top defenses in Northern California with QB Carson Jarratt, RB Sheldon Conde and WRs Dawson Hurst, Johnny Guzman and Matt Smart, whose fumble return for a touchdown off a Dante Pericin strip beat Central Catholic 20-17 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II final on Saturday. Saint Francis is massive on the lines, providing a challenge for two-way lineman Tatuo Martinson, who has dominated all season.
Capital Christian (13-0) at Wilcox (12-1), 6 p.m Saturday — The host Chargers of Santa Clara are enjoying their best season since 1995 and are a ground-and-pound team, having rushed for 3,571 yards and 50 touchdowns, 1,377 and 17 of those from Paul Rosa, son of the team’s coach of the same name. Capital Christian can run it, too, led by D’Marcus Ross, who has 2,003 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. Cooper Crick has passed for 2,012 yards and 25 touchdowns for the Cougars, who will test a defense that has allowed seven or fewer points six times this season. Because the Central Coast Section sends its Open Division finalists to NorCal games, Wilcox is still alive, having lost 33-28 last week to Menlo-Atherton. Capital Christian is traveling at the urging of Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Mike Garrison, who said he had to “make a stand” on teams with player ejections. Capital’s DJ Mallott was flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct in a 25-22 win over Placer last week in the section D-III final.
Rio Linda (11-2) vs. West Valley (12-1) at Red Bluff High School, 7:30 p.m. Friday — Fresh off the program’s first section title since 2004, Rio Linda bounds into its first NorCal action, led by QB Tyson Ybarra (978 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns) and workhorse back Cameron Skattebo (2,918 yards, 37 scores). Skattebo is closing in on becoming just the third area runner to hit for 3,000 rushing yards in a season, joining John Bordenkircher of Dixon in 1997 (3,458) and Onterrio Smith of Grant in 1998 (3,125). West Valley is from Cottonwood of the Northern Section, a balanced team led by QB Kitt McCloughan and RB Bailey Sulzer, who has rushed for 1,943 yards and 29 touchdowns, including 153 yards in a 7-0 Northern Section title victory over Sutter.
East Nicolaus (13-0) vs. Hilmar (11-2) at Atwater High School, 7:30 p.m. Friday — In what figures to be a terrific small-school showdown, East Nicolaus seeks its second NorCal title since 2015 and Hilmar its first. Both teams rely on the run, Hilmar having rushed for 3,637 yards and 48 touchdowns and East Nicolaus going for 4,273 and 69, including 1,069 and 19 from QB Gavin McAuliff and 1,013 and 18 from J.T. Stinson. McAuliff has also passed for 1,071 yards and 13 TDs.
CIF Northern California Regional championships
Here’s a look at this weekend’s Northern California regional schedule.
Folsom at Central-Fresno, 7:30 p.m. Friday
Liberty at Valley Christian, 6 p.m. Saturday
Saint Francis-Mountain View at Del Oro, 7:30 p.m. Friday
San Joaquin Memorial at Tulare Union, 6 p.m. Saturday
Menlo-Atherton vs. Eureka at McKinleyville High, 7:30 p.m. Friday
Capital Christian at Wilcox-Santa Clara, 6 p.m. Saturday
McClymonds at Aptos, 6 p.m. Saturday
Rio Linda at West Valley, 7:30 p.m. Friday
East Nicolaus vs. Hilmar at Atwater High, 7:30 p.m. Friday
▪ Note: There are no regional games in Divisions IV-AA, V-A (which includes Colfax) and IV-A. Those divisions will advance straight to CIF State title games.