Joe Davidson

High school football preview: Teams aim for playoffs, with or without a league title

Monterey Trail’s Neville Bood (34), catching a pass for a two-point conversion against Cosumnes Oaks in last year’s playoffs,
Monterey Trail’s Neville Bood (34), catching a pass for a two-point conversion against Cosumnes Oaks in last year’s playoffs, Sacramento Bee file

Regional high school football teams aren’t just aiming for league championships; a playoff spot is the goal. A number of teams have finished second, third and sometimes fourth in league races yet won Sac-Joaquin Section championships. But a league title ensures a higher seed, not to mention bragging rights. Here are five big games this weekend:

No. 2 Elk Grove (7-0) at Monterey Trail (3-4)

When: Friday, 7:15 p.m.

Outlook: Elk Grove is favored to lock up the Delta League, but Thundering Herd coaches are warning the players Monterey Trail is a threat because the Mustangs are fast and physical on defense. Elk Grove senior Ryan Robards, an every-down player, has averaged 195.7 rushing yards and scored 22 touchdowns on the ground (plus two on interception returns, two on punt returns, one on a pass reception and one on a fumble recovery). Emerging Thundering Herd quarterback Jayden Machado keeps teams honest with 117.9 passing yards per game and 11 touchdown passes, including six to wide receiver Gavin Reinwald. Monterey Trail allowed 272 rushing yards to Grant backs in last week’s 21-6 loss. Monterey Trail’s defense is led by linebacker Neville Bood.

No. 6 Antelope (7-0) at No. 13 Del Campo (6-1)

When: Friday, 7:15 p.m.

Outlook: Antelope and Del Campo are the only unbeaten teams in Capital Valley Conference games, and both need a victory to enhance their title chances. Antelope scored on a two-point conversion in last week’s 42-41 overtime win at Cosumnes Oaks as running backs Elijah Dotson and Davaughn Silver and quarterback Montel Aaron had big games. Del Campo beat Cosumnes Oaks 21-14 this season and can score in bunches. The Cougars are led by quarterback Ben Purcell, who passed for 510 yards and six touchdowns in last week’s 48-13 victory over Ponderosa.

No. 10 Placer (7-0) at No. 12 Bear River (7-0)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Outlook: The Pioneer Valley League title could be decided, with Placer seeking a three-peat and Bear River its first crown since 2005, though the Bruins did win the Division V section championship last season without winning a share of the PVL. Placer can pass with Marcus Ante (147.7 yards a game, 14 touchdowns), and run (340.6-yard average). The Hillmen have run for 28 touchdowns, led by Jared Halbert (10), Waylen Cozad (six), Owen Scott (five) and Morgan Rein-Robinson (four). Placer will be Bear River’s biggest challenge of the season, but the Bruins will test Placer, too, with a running game led by David O’Brien (448 yards, seven touchdowns) and Austin Baze (271 yards, eight scores), and quarterback Jason Voter, who has passed for eight touchdowns.

No. 19 Christian Brothers (6-1) vs. El Camino (5-2)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m., Hughes Stadium

Outlook: Christian Brothers has been hot since losing to Jesuit in the Holy Bowl, scoring 48 or more points three times. Braeden Bourke has passed for 1,297 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Jamarri Jackson is one of the region’s most electrifying players, with 14 rushing touchdowns, three touchdown catches and touchdowns on defense and special teams. El Camino, with wins over Rio Americano and Casa Roble, also is in the Capital Athletic League race, but the Eagles need at least a split with CBS and Vista del Lago. The Eagles average 268.9 rushing yards, led by Jacquez Drake (159.7) and Dale Armstrong (81.6).

No. 9 Franklin (5-2) at No. 18 Jesuit (4-3)

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

Outlook: A Delta League championship may be out of reach for both, but they’re still playoff contenders because the Delta has a minimum of four spots. Jesuit has had a roller-coaster season, winning impressively, then getting routed, then winning big again. Calvin Brownholtz has been steady at quarterback with Stanford-bound running back Beau Bisharat slowed by leg injuries. Franklin is led by quarterback Jacob Lopez and defensive back Lamar Jackson.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

High school football coverage

The Sacramento Bee’s print edition features expanded coverage of high school football every Sunday, including insight from Joe Davidson, highlights of the top weekend games, how The Bee’s Top 20 fared, scores and more. Can’t wait until Sunday? Go to after the games on Friday nights for highlights, scores, photo galleries and more.

Where’s Joe D?: The Bee’s Joe Davidson will be in Grass Valley for No. 12 Bear River’s game against No. 10 Placer in a Pioneer Valley League showdown.

Live chat: Join us every Friday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss that night’s games before and during play.

Sports Night newsletter: Sign up for The Bee’s nightly email with the latest results, plus links to game stories, photo galleries, scores and more.