Matt Ray had two options to ponder late Friday night, a perfect season hanging in the balance, not to mention team morale.
He could slug it out with a formidable foe well into the wee hours of the night or just end it right here and now.
The Antelope High School football coach went for the jugular – the win – in delivering the gutsy call of the season when conventional wisdom suggested a safer route.
Ray ordered up a two-point run attempt, and Davaughn Silver delivered, bouncing off two Cosumnes Oaks tacklers to blast in for the 42-41 overtime victory in Elk Grove in your typical Capital Valley Conference thriller.
The entire Antelope bench had dropped to a knee, holding hands and holding their breath, as the Titans lined up in formation only to be stalled when Cosumnes Oaks called a timeout. Then it called another timeout. Then the dagger run, and then team bedlam. For a tuckered outfit, the Titans mustered enough juice to race into the end zone to mob Silver.
Elijah Dotson set up Silver with a 10-yard touchdown burst a moment earlier.
“If we kept going back and forth, I don’t know if we could hold them off,” Ray said. “We were getting tired. We went for it. Let’s see what we have.”
Guts is what they have, the coach especially. Had the Wolfpack made the stop, everything would have changed. Cosumnes Oaks players would have stormed the field, and Ray would have taken the heat for the call. Silver had been running downhill, rushing for 161 yards like a dart – his nickname is “Jack Rabbit” – against one of the region’s toughest defenses. So what about two more yards?
“We liked our chances,” Ray said.
One lad glad that it was over was Ray’s 23-month-old son, Vander. He was the only one in Titans colors who had tears rolling down his cheeks.
“He was scared when the guys started to celebrate,” Ray said, his kid on his shoulders and his team surrounding him doing a quick postgame clap and cheer.
Ray is exposing his son to a sport that has rewarded him immeasurably. He is a football lifer, the son of a famed coach in the small town of Quincy nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the grandson of one, too. His father ,Jeff Ray, and grandfather, Don Ray, coached Quincy football to championship success over five decades. Ray was a star quarterback there who later played at UNLV in the late 1990s.
Ranked sixth by The Bee, Antelope (7-0) has perhaps its best team since opening in 2008. Ray started the program from scratch and has surrounded himself with veteran coaches. To elevate his program even more, Ray needs more milestone victories. It doesn’t get any easier with Del Campo looming, and the real hurdles are the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Ray has proven he’s not afraid of a challenge. Now he’s challenging his troops to follow suit.
Del Oro misery – The best 2-5 team anywhere might be Del Oro, with no argument from teams that survived a Golden Eagles scare.
Del Oro is a few bounces away from being 5-2, but no one weeps for the traditional powerhouse from Loomis. The Golden Eagles lost to four-time defending Division I Hawaii state champion Punahou of Honolulu 22-15 on the final play at Cal, then lost in the final seconds at home to Bay Area monster Bellarmine 34-31, and on Friday succumbed to No. 3 Oak Ridge in El Dorado Hills 24-21.
Now look who’s waiting: national powerhouse De La Salle in Concord. The Spartans haven’t lost to a Northern California opponent since 1991, and hasn’t lost to a section team ... ever, going 27-0. They are 6-0 against regional powers since 2012, beating Folsom and Del Oro twice and Jesuit and Granite Bay.
Del Oro, a two-time CIF State Bowl team since 2011 under coach Casey Taylor, must close out Sierra Foothill League play with wins over ranked Woodcreek and ranked Granite Bay. The only way for the Golden Eagles to land a playoff spot would be to place fourth, as four SFL teams will advance to the postseason.
Timberwolves time – Woodcreek, which entered the week ranked by the Bee for the first time this season at 19th, seeks its first win over a ranked team since opening in Roseville in 1994. The Timberwolves (5-2) must finish at least fourth to qualify for the playoffs after falling to No. 8 Rocklin 38-3 on Friday. They have No. 6 Granite Bay, No. 16 Del Oro and top-ranked Folsom to close out SFL play.
Folsom, which had a bye on Friday, is riding a state-leading 38-game regular-season winning streak and holds the state’s current longest overall streak of 23.
Lancer legends – Can any area school compete with Cordova in sporting tradition? Perhaps Christian Brothers, Grant, Elk Grove and Jesuit, but we’re leaning toward Cordova, with the first Rancho Cordova Sports Hall of Fame inductions on Saturday night offering a who’s who of regional stars, headed by members of the 1975 Lancers football team that went 11-0 and finished No. 1 in the country.
That was Cordova’s greatest team in a decade of unparalleled regional dominance. The Lancers went 102-6-1 in the 1970s, tops in the country, under famed coaches Dewey Guerra and Ron Lancaster. The winning continued in the 1980s under another Hall of Fame inductee, Max Miller.
Other football inductees were Rod Connors, Max Venable, Seneca Wallace, brothers Gerald and Kevin Willhite and Reggie Young. Kevin Willhite remains the most intensely recruited athlete in regional history, winning several national Football Player of the Year awards in 1981. Gerald didn’t play high school football, but he wrestled, and he became a first-round pick out of San Jose State and had a good NFL career as a running back.
Baseball inductees included coach Guy Anderson, who won 927 games over 45 seasons, and eventual major leaguers Chris Bosio, Geoff Jenkins, Randy Lerch, Jerry Manuel and Larry Wolfe. Manuel was also a superb football player, nationally recruited by UCLA, USC, Oklahoma and Nebraska to play flanker.
Cordova’s sports dynasty took a hit in the early 1990s with the closure of nearby Mather Air Force Base, coupled with declining enrollment and changing demographics. The Lancers went from Division I large-school trendsetters to survival mode in Division III or smaller in various sports.