Skill-position players might garner most of the headlines during the prep football regular season, but the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs might come down to the efforts of defensive linemen and linebackers.
Inderkum coach Terry Stark is known for prolific wing-T teams. But he is quick to acknowledge the efforts of the Falo brothers –Nu’umotu, a senior linebacker, and Josh, a sophomore linebacker. They have followed in the footsteps of their brother Nate, who starts at defensive tackle for San Jose State. Inderkum (10-1) is the top seed in the Division III playoffs.
“Nu’umotu shuts down his side of the field, and people just go the other way,” Stark said. “He’s special. So is his brother Josh, and Nate. The whole family is special.”
Defending also has been a family affair for Sai Ta’amu, a senior defensive tackle for D-II second seed Elk Grove (9-2). Ta’amu said he sizes up opponents and bull rushes or uses quickness to slip past blockers.
“He’s dominant, the best around,” Elk Grove defensive coordinator Jeff Carlson said.
Ta’amu’s brother Lau, a junior offensive and defensive lineman, may be the only player on the Thundering Herd who invites contact from his older sibling. They grew up roughhousing with goal-line stands.
Elk Grove linebacker Manny Scott-Anderson had the team’s biggest defensive stop of the season when he stuffed Monterey Trail running back Trey Nahhas at the goal line on fourth down as time expired to seal a 34-27 Delta League win Oct. 24. On Friday, Scott-Anderson returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a 69-7 rout of Vintage.
Jesuit (9-2), seeded second in D-I, has hard-hitting linebacker Isaac Lessard. Cameron Smith of Granite Bay (8-3), seeded third in D-I, has returned two interceptions for scores this season.
And no team has as many play-stuffing defensive ends-linebackers as Grant (11-0), the No. 1 seed in D-II. On Friday, the Pacers recorded 11 sacks in their 42-23 win over Patterson. Linebacker David Moala and end Jacques Cheatham had 4.5 sacks each. Grant also has had big games lately from linebackers Elijah Orr, Chris Atteberry and Carl Granderson.
Chase Hatada has dominated at defensive tackle for Rocklin (9-2), seeded sixth in D-II. He’ll be called upon to pressure St. Mary’s quarterback Noah Righetti, who threw five touchdown passes in a 55-12 victory over River Valley on Friday. Rocklin visits St. Mary’s (10-1) in Stockton on Friday. The Rams also feature the state’s top tackler, linebacker Khalil Hodge, averaging 18.8 tackles a game.
Defending D-II champion Del Oro (6-5), seeded fourth, sealed its 14-6 win over Roseville on Friday with a late interception by Ben Hart, his second of the night. The Golden Eagles have 21 interceptions this season.
Bear River (9-2), the top seed in D-V, beat Orestimba 49-25 in the Bruins’ first home playoff game in nine years Friday with the help of a 10-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker John Voter, who also ran for two scores.
Bradshaw Christian (8-3), seeded third in D-VI, is led on defense by end Phillip White, who has 19 sacks.
Respect for Browning – Shortly after top-ranked Folsom blasted Stagg of Stockton 70-14 in a D-I opener Saturday, Delta Kings players Lester Williams and Michael Thompson sought out Jake Browning to shake hands with the Bulldogs quarterback.
“‘I just wanted to say hello and that it was a thrill to play you,’” Williams told Browning, who thanked the players for saying hello. Said Williams a moment later, “That dude Browning? Wow. Better than I thought, and we knew he was great.”
Browning threw eight touchdown passes, five in the first quarter and three in the second quarter, to give him 204 in three varsity seasons, the second most in national history. He is 15 shy of the national prep record held by Maty Mauk of small-school Kenton-Ohio over four seasons (2008-11).
Browning credited his teammates and coaches for the milestone, saying, “It’ll be fun to look back someday, but right now, we’re focused on the next game.”
Said Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson: “It’s a remarkable feat. Jake’s career is off the charts, but it takes a whole team to do what he’s done. You need a good defense. You need an offensive line, and you need good receivers. Jake’s the one pulling the trigger, though. I’m very proud to be a part of his career.”
Browning has passed for 3,946 yards and 64 touchdowns this season for Folsom (11-0). He set the state season record with 75 last year.
The Bulldogs stretched their section playoff winning streak to nine as Josiah Deguara had four touchdown receptions and Sam Whittingham returned an interception for a score.
One last game – Wilbur Heath’s final wish was to attend one more Del Oro football game.
Battling cancer, the longtime Golden Eagles equipment manager left his hospice care facility by ambulance and watched Friday’s game against Roseville at the Loomis stadium from a gurney, covered in blankets, surrounded by family. Heath, 75, died Sunday night.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.