Joe Davidson

Del Oro holds off Hunter Rodrigues, Whitney in Division II football opener

Del Oro Golden Eagles Stone Smartt (4), passes the ball during the first quarter as the Del Oro Golden Eagles host the Whitney Wildcats in the Sac-Joaquin Section/Les Schwab Tires Division II first round playoff game, Friday Nov 13, 2015.
Del Oro Golden Eagles Stone Smartt (4), passes the ball during the first quarter as the Del Oro Golden Eagles host the Whitney Wildcats in the Sac-Joaquin Section/Les Schwab Tires Division II first round playoff game, Friday Nov 13, 2015. Special to The Bee

The defense knew he was coming, knew he’d throw darts and fade patterns, and that he’d run on them.

It was right there on film, gobs of it, and it was right there in real life on a fast field turf.

Hunter Rodrigues showcased some of his outrageous football ability on a chilly Friday night in Loomis, earning the respect of his opponents, but Del Oro High School unleashed some fireworks, too.

Using a late drive with passing and throwing, the Golden Eagles surged ahead of a back-and-forth affair on a Cam Davis eight-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds to go, and then withstood one frantic, final effort by Rodrigues to prevail 34-28 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II opener that was every bit as good as advertised.

It was the first time Del Oro had encountered Rodrigues, a dazzling senior quarterback who is as tough as he is prolific, and it was the third time in as many tries that the Golden Eagles beat their Placer County rivals in the playoffs in the last five years.

“Wow, hell of a game,” said Del Oro coach Casey Taylor, steam coming off of his head. “Hunter is as good as we’ve seen – really, really special. But we fought back, kept in it, and it was old-school Del Oro football.”

Rodrigues accounted for all four of Whitney’s touchdowns as a one-man machine in passing for 231 yards and rushing for 153. He scored on runs of one and 14 yards, hit Brandon McCarter for a 30-yard touchdown to tie it 21-21 early in the fourth quarter, then found Devin Brocchini for an eight-yard strike for a 28-21 lead with 8:12 to go.

Wow, hell of a game. Hunter is as good as we’ve seen – really, really special. But we fought back, kept in it, and it was old-school Del Oro football.

Golden Eagles coach Casey Taylor

From there, it was all Del Oro (5-6), which needed a late drive and stop to beat Granite Bay last week 17-14 to secure a playoff berth.

Stone Smartt hit Trey Udoffia with a nifty 64-yard touchdown strike to tie it 28-28 with 7:23 to go, and Davis sealed it.

Smartt, a 4.0 student, hit Mason Hurst for touchdowns of 10 and 36 yards in passing for 226 yards. Hurst had a terrific game, catching the ball, making tackles and imploring his teammates to compete. Justin Burrage, a fellow three-year Del Oro starter, also had a big game in the secondary. Dalton Gee rushed for 82 yards behind an emerging offensive line that has been challenged by the coaches to play big. They have, and they did.

Udoffia exhaled after it was over, offering appreciation to Rodrigues and also to his teammates. He also received words of encouragement from Taylor during the game, laced with a simple message after he dropped a pass.

“Told him to have fun, hang in there, play with enthusiasm,” Taylor said.

Udoffia said the Golden Eagles endured a roller coaster season, and a roller coaster game, but was delighted with the response. Del Oro lost late to some of the top quarterbacks in the state, including Troy Martig of Bellarmine of San Jose, Anthony Sweeney of De La Salle, Ian Book of Oak Ridge, William Floyd of Rocklin and Jake Jeffrey of Folsom.

“It’s really tough to lose games in the last seconds, and you hope you hang in there,” Udoffia said. “We did. We kept working. Hunter was amazing. Just glad we won.”

Del Oro will face Wood of Vacaville next Friday in what should be another high-scoring game. Whitney (6-5) bows out in serving notice that the program is back on track. The Wildcats suffered a one-win season last fall amid scores of season-ending injuries and surged again under first-year coach Paul Doherty.

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