With the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs starting Friday, coaches of the top teams won’t significantly alter game plans that helped them land top seeds.
The decided underdogs? They’re more likely to ponder changes.
No team is more heavily favored than Folsom (10-0), which seeks its third consecutive Division I title. The Bulldogs’ prolific offense is led by quarterback Jake Browning, who has passed for 196 career touchdowns, 14 shy of the national high school record. And even though Browning is the main attraction, the Washington-bound senior stresses that the Bulldogs also have a solid running game with a bevy of backs.
In Division II, Grant (10-0) earned the No. 1 seed behind a punishing ground game headed by DeShawn Collins. The Pacers, in the playoffs for a record 23rd consecutive season, are favored to win their seventh section title.
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Inderkum (9-1) is the top seed in Division III, thanks to its deception-based wing-T that unleashes backs Jimmie Johnson, Larry Hardy and Austin Thurman.
FAVORITES, CONTENDERS AND DARK HORSES IN THE SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
▪ Folsom (10-0): The Bulldogs, unbeaten in section play since 2011, are this field’s most experienced team. With record-setting quarterback Jake Browning, a punishing run game and dominating lines, they should three-peat.
▪ Jesuit (8-2): The Marauders are balanced with quarterback Cole Brownholtz, running back Beau Bisharat, receiver Isaiah Bailey and a motivated defense after getting beaten and bruised by Grant in Week 10. In the 2013 playoffs, Jesuit challenged Folsom in 42-35 loss.
▪ Granite Bay (7-3): The Grizzlies have won five section titles, including D-I in 2011 and 2012. USC-bound linebacker Cameron Smith craves a big finish.
▪ Merced (8-2): The Bears, a section force in the late 1980s and early 1990s, are fast at the skill positions and on defense. Their only losses were to Fresno powers Clovis West and Edison.
▪ Napa (8-2): A victory over rival Vacaville is telling because Vacaville beat Granite Bay 13-7, and Napa could face Granite Bay in the second round.
▪ Monterey Trail (6-4): Close losses to Jesuit and Elk Grove and a halftime lead against Grant show that the Mustangs can compete with anyone, and running back Trey Nahhas is hard to stop.
▪ Cosumnes Oaks (8-2): Quarterback Jaaron Stallworth makes plays and is a leader, but the Wolfpack opens against Monterey Trail – and Folsom is on the same side of the bracket.
▪ Grant (10-0): The Pacers have the best offensive line in school history, prolific running back DeShawn Collins, an attacking defense and coach Mike Alberghini, who has won six section titles.
▪ Elk Grove (8-2): With a fleet of fast, tough backs, a superb offensive line and dominant nose guard Sai Taamu, the Herd could be headed for a rematch against Grant, which won 26-19 early last month.
▪ Rocklin (8-2): Will Floyd has stepped up at quarterback, defensive tackle Chase Hatada dominates and the defense is physical.
▪ St. Mary’s (9-1): A wide-open passing attack gives opponents fits, and a second-round game against Rocklin would be a classic of contrasting styles.
▪ Del Oro (5-5): Never mind the record, the defending champs have improved tremendously, play tough defense and can air it out with quarterback Logan Hurst. The run game is the key.
▪ Vacaville (8-2): The Bulldogs, the last section team to beat Folsom (in the 2011 section finals), are led by quarterback Chad Hekking. They have a big nonleague win over Granite Bay.
▪ Burbank (7-3): The Titans are fast with quarterback Harrison Anderson and they smother teams on defense. They have won seven straight but lost to Grant 20-0 in the season opener.
▪ Inderkum (9-1): With Jonathan Henry, Jimmie Johnson, Larry Hardy and Austin Thurman, the Tigers are the fastest team in the field as they seek their first section title.
▪ Sierra (9-1): The upstarts from Manteca beat longtime power Oakdale and have the section’s most prolific running back in Mark Paule (1,714 yards, 37 touchdowns).
▪ Oakdale (9-1): The Mustangs, who use the wing-T to set the tempo and control the clock, were champions in 2012 and played in the title game in 2010 and 2011.
▪ Rio Linda (8-2): The Knights are led by Marcel Brown, one of the field’s top running backs, quarterback Zak Burden and dominating defensive linemen Fila Hingano and Hunter Clark.
▪ Vista del Lago (7-3): The Eagles’ point-a-minite offense is led by quarterback Matt Jimison and running back Colby Carrera; Jimison led them to the title game in 2012.
▪ Manteca (8-2): The defending champion Buffaloes lost only to Division IV top seed Central Catholic and rival Oakdale.
▪ El Dorado (10-0): An unbeaten team usually isn’t considered a dark horse, but the Cougars are on a collision course with Inderkum in the second round.
▪ Central Catholic (7-3): The two-time defending CIF D-IV state champions and 17-time section winners are led by running back Justin Rice.
▪ Sonora (9-1): The Wildcats have won nine straight since losing to Oakdale 28-14; they’ve had three shutouts and allowed seven points two other times in their past six games.
▪ Los Banos (8-2): The Tigers, whose only losses were to larger schools Madera and Davis of Modesto, could play rival Sonora in the semifinals.
▪ Center (6-4): Though small in numbers and stature, coach Digol JBeily said his team competes as hard as any for which he’s coached or played.
▪ Bear River (8-2): The Bruins last won a section title 20 seasons ago, and co-coach Terry Logue said this year’s team has the same championship moxie, led by running back/linebacker John Voter.
▪ Colfax (6-4): The Falcons, winners of four section titles in seven title-game appearances, have the field’s best running back, Tim Rawlins.
▪ Mariposa County (7-3): The Grizzlies, led by a staunch defense, have won six of their past seven games.
▪ Amador (6-4): The Buffaloes try to set the pace with their running game, which averaged 205 yards a game.
▪ Capital Christian (10-0): The Cougars feature playmaker Justice Shelton-Mosley, a stifling defense led by defensive back Edward Ware and steady quarterback Jacob Norville.
▪ Modesto Christian (9-1): The Crusaders’ only loss was 23-22 in a season opener at Capital Christian, and there’s been talk of a rematch since.
▪ Bradshaw Christian (7-3): The Pride, which won the D-VII section title last season and three D-VI titles since 2009, has rushed for 4,001 yards and 45 touchdowns.
▪ Golden Sierra (8-2): The Grizzlies, who reached the D-V finals title game last season, rely on a run game that has averaged nearly 300 yards.