They have studied each other from afar and watched up close. And now they’ll play.
The Bee’s top-ranked high school football teams – Folsom and Grant – will meet in the CIF Northern California Division I Regional championship Friday at Sacramento State in a clash of state-ranked 14-0 powers with national pedigrees and recruits.
The state’s 10 section commissioners met Sunday morning in Los Angeles to sort out a pool of 51 section champions spanning seven divisions across, 23 from Northern California.
Folsom, ranked third in the state and in the top five nationally by several of publications and websites, was a lock to land a D-I NorCal bid after its third straight 14-win season and third successive Sac-Joaquin Section championships, the last two in D-I. The Bulldogs routed Tracy 55-7 on Saturday to win the section title.
Folsom is led by senior quarterback Jake Browning, who set the national high school record with his 220th career touchdown pass Saturday.
There was a twinge of debate about Grant, a seven-time section champion that beat St. Mary’s of Stockton 21-14 on Friday for the D-II section championship.
The Pacers have quite a résumé, having put the Sac-Joaquin Section on the national radar with their spirited 25-20 CIF State Open Division championship win over national No. 2 Long Beach Poly in 2008. Also posing a strong argument for a NorCal D-I bid was 13-0 Sacred Heart Prep of the Bay Area, the Central Coast Section Open Division champion.
Ultimately, it was decided that Grant played in a stronger league within a stronger section and had higher state rankings than Sacred Heart, all part of the criteria.
Sacred Heart coach Pete Lavorato told the San Jose Mercury News he understands.
“I think Grant and Folsom and, of course, De La Salle are all very deserving,” Lavorato said. “How can you complain or whine about that? They are great football teams.”
That two Sacramento-area teams will meet for the NorCal title speaks of the rise of regional football. Folsom won the 2010 CIF State D-II title after taking out Grant in the section D-II finals in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 at Sac State, the only time the programs have met in the postseason.
Regional winners advance to CIF State Bowl games Dec. 19-20 in Carson.
“That’s exciting, two 14-0 teams, section title winners, Grant with its great history and us with ours – wow,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “It’ll be a great challenge. Can’t wait.”
Said Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor, in a word, “Fantastic!”
And Grant coach Mike Alberghini, “It’ll be fun. This is great for this area, two outstanding football teams meeting. We love the challenge.”
In a show of how deep and talented the section is, Capital Christian (13-0) also earned a NorCal D-IV bid and will face two-time defending CIF state champion Central Catholic of Modesto (10-3). The teams play Friday at Central Catholic.
In the NorCal D-III game, Oakdale (13-1) will play at Clayton Valley Charter of Concord (14-0) on Saturday.
That’s five Sac-Joaquin Section teams spread over three games.
“It’s great,” Capital Christian coach Phil Grams said. “Super excited for our kids, our school, and it’s uncharted territory for us. We know we’re playing a great team. It’s a great challenge.”
The CIF tweaked the NorCal postseason this year. Unlike the past two seasons, there is no NorCal Open Division game. In those years, De La Salle beat an undefeated Folsom team to reach the state Open Division finals.
The CIF, the governing body for high school sports, dropped the NorCal and SoCal Open games and instead awarded direct passes to the State CIF Open game in Carson on Dec. 20 to De La Salle and Centennial of Corona.
De La Salle has not lost to a NorCal team since 1992 and just won its 23rd consecutive North Coast Section D-I title.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.