It started in the middle of the third quarter, 300 miles from home, in a game that was on the brink of going bad in a hurry.
A Del Oro High School football player hoisted his helmet high, and started a sing-song chant.
Then another player joined in, helmet up, then another. And then a throng of Golden Eagles fans joined in, all singing, all embracing any hope of keeping this improbable season alive. Del Oro rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Bakersfield power Liberty 28-24 last week on Stone Smartt’s last-minute quarterback keeper and win the CIF Northern California Division II-AA championship.
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And the motto “We Believe” lives on.
2-6 Del Oro’s record in October before the team’s seven-game winning streak
At Sacramento State on Friday at 4 p.m., the Golden Eagles will take their seven-game winning streak into their game against Camarillo (15-0) for the CIF State Division II-AA championship. The “We Believe” bandwagon is bustling with optimism now, but in late October there wasn’t a lot to latch onto when the Golden Eagles were 2-6.
Del Oro (9-6) hasn’t lost since, clearing historic hurdles along the way. The Golden Eagles are the first team to win Sac-Joaquin Section and regional championships with six losses. The last team standing from the Sacramento area, Del Oro is the first regional program to reach three CIF Bowl games. And it all goes back to the new team motto.
“We Believe” is tied to Jason Harper, Del Oro’s longtime motivational speaker. He gave a powerful presentation before Del Oro headed to Bakersfield, with the theme of believing in each other even if others do not.
Said Del Oro three-year starting defensive back Justin Burrage: “Jason Harper was right. When the ‘We Believe’ started on our sideline, you could see the energy, feel the energy, and then it started happening. We made plays. I was on the field, playing, but I could see the helmets up. We gained energy, and you could see the other team’s energy being drained. It was amazing. It was cool.”
What’s also amazing and cool for the Golden Eagles is how they stuck together. Football is often mentioned as a brotherhood, and it rings true for Del Oro, to the point where brothers bicker, sometimes to the point of near brawling.
“We had guys who really hated each other, and now we all love each other,” said Del Oro wide receiver-defensive back Trey Udoffia, who is headed to Colorado on a scholarship. “Our team was in groups early in the season. We were rivals to each other. Pablo Miller (an offensive lineman) and I didn’t like each other. It wasn’t good. But after the last game, we hugged each other. We forgave each other. We knew we wanted the same thing, and we knew nothing could break our brotherhood.
For seven consecutive weeks, Del Oro has competed in an elimination game.
“Winning is pretty cool. It makes everything better. After Friday’s game, we’re all going to Pablo’s house. He said he’ll even let me in!”
For seven consecutive weeks, Del Oro has played an elimination game. It beat Woodcreek 24-7 in Week 9 to keep its playoffs hopes alive. It beat Granite Bay 17-14 in Week 10 to secure the fourth and final playoff berth out of the Sierra Foothill League. Del Oro is 5-0 in the playoffs, and no games were easy. To get to Friday’s state championship game, the Golden Eagles beat Whitney 34-28, Wood 59-49, Granite Bay 25-17, Rocklin 30-20 in the section finals at Sac State and Liberty last week.
More fuel for the “We Believe” bandwagon: Del Oro is 4-0 all time in postseason games at Sac State.
The mainstay has been coach Casey Taylor, who stressed confidence and “staying the course” throughout the second half of the season.
“We told the guys, ‘We believe in you, man,’ ” Taylor said. “We told them, ‘As a staff, we want to keep coaching you. You might be getting mixed messages around school, at home, in the community, but we haven’t given up on you.’
“It’s funny how this game is. The first part of the season, all the bounces went the other way, to the other team. Now they’re going our way. We’re really hungry. We’ve been to the CIF Bowl twice and haven’t won, haven’t answered the bell. We really want this.”