Joe Davidson

High school football playoff expansion opens door for more teams

The high school football season has come down to this: CIF Regional Championships across Northern California on Friday and Saturday, with each team having a chance to extend their season to the final week.

In the only area game Friday, Folsom hosts Bellarmine of San Jose for the Division I-AA title.

Also Friday, Del Oro takes a 300-mile bus ride to Bakersfield to play Liberty in Division II-AA and Bradshaw Christian treks 200 miles to Reedley to face Immanuel in DivisionV-AA for the biggest athletic event in the school’s 10-year history.

No one at Del Oro or Bradshaw Christian is complaining; a victory means a spot in a CIF State Bowl game.

Here’s a closer look at the NorCal championships:

A gaggle of games – There are 13 divisions this year, including large-school and small-school elite classifications. That’s a lot of games, but it matches the volume of schools and contrasts in enrollments for the state’s 10 sections.

Suggestions that there are too many schools still playing is countered by the CIF’s argument that the schools and sections voted on the expansion from the old format of five divisions, when some undefeated and one-loss section champs were left out. Under the old format, Del Oro and Bradshaw Christian would not have been picked for a NorCal championship game.

The CIF said playoff formats for every sport are a work in progress, and changes will be made, if needed, and voted on.

“I firmly believe in this model, and a vast majority do,” CIF Executive Director Roger Blake said. “I recognize that all schools don’t believe in the model – yet. As schools learn more about the competitive model, particularly in the northern part of the state, we’ll see more changes.”

Public vs. private – The NorCal championships and CIF State Bowls give public schools a stage to take on private ones.

Friday’s game between Folsom (14-0) and Bellarmine (12-1) is an example.

Folsom has had good teams since the early 1960s. It endured some lean years in the 1970s, a resurgence in the late 1980s, then a meteoric rise this decade. The school’s athletes are largely homegrown, most growing up together playing youth football and living in town. The Bulldogs have won four consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section championships and five this decade, plus two CIF state trophies.

Bellarmine casts a large shadow in San Jose beyond its 3,230 students. It’s had a powerful program for decades that has won Central Section titles beginning in the 1970s, including four since 2008, and it has played in one CIF State Bowl under coach Mike Janda. His old-school values of blocking and tackling – and running the throwback double-wing offense – have rewarded him with a Central Section-record tying 269 victories.

Bellarmine’s star is quarterback Troy Martig, an Ivy League track recruit to Columbia who led his team to victory over Del Oro in the closing seconds of an early-season game. He’s a second-generation player for the Bells; his father, Rick, quarterbacked the 1979 team.

Martig’s counterpart is Folsom’s Jake Jeffrey, the latest in a line of outstanding Bulldogs quarterbacks.

Misleading madness – Del Oro isn’t trying to buck trends, but the Golden Eagles (8-6) are the first Sac-Joaquin Section champion and first Northern California team to advance to a regional title game with six losses.

Del Oro has won six consecutive games, overcoming crushing close losses, blowout defeats, a bout of team infighting and a lot of doubt.

“We never stopped believing, and that was really important,” Del Oro coach Casey Taylor said. “Everyone feels good when you’re winning.”

Liberty (9-3) has won eight consecutive games, led by three scholarship players, quarterback Jordan Love (Utah State), running back Quincy Jountti (Sacramento State) and linebacker Krys Barnes (UCLA). Del Oro has one scholarship player in Colorado-bound receiver Trey Udoffia, who might be the fastest player on the field Friday.

Big on Bradshaw – Bradshaw Christian has 304 students, none larger in stature than Phillip White.

White, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior defensive end/tight end, is proof that scholarship players can come from small schools, too. White has been recruited by Nevada, Sac State, San Jose State and Wyoming. He has 20 sacks, and he’s caught five touchdown passes from Kyle Wilburn. The Pride also features 1,000-yard running backs in Mateo Bromstead and Jared Kanipe.

Think Bradshaw Christian has small enrollment? Immanuel, its Central Section opponent, has 233 students.

Yes, the small schools savor the big stage as much as anyone.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

CIF NorCal football championships

All games Friday at 7:30 p.m.

▪ Division I-AA: Bellarmine-San Jose (12-1) at Folsom (14-0), CSNCA

▪ Division II-AA: Del Oro (8-6) at Liberty-Bakersfield (9-3)

▪ Division V-AA: Bradshaw Christian (12-1) at Immanuel-Reedley (10-2) at Reedley High School

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