What region plays better football, Bay Area or Sac-Joaquin? Bragging rights aren’t so easy to claim.
By BEN ENOS | Contributor
Somewhere, perhaps at a truck stop along Interstate 80, just south of a fruit stand on the Yolo Causeway or maybe in the middle of a field watered by runoff from the Delta, sits a line.
It isn’t straight and it can’t be found on a map. In fact, there is no physical manifestation of that line anywhere. But, rest assured the line exists.
Somewhere, the line between the Bay Area and San Joaquin Valley has been drawn and people are asking a simple question.
Which area plays better football?
First, it helps to define the scope of the inquiry. The Bay Area will be defined as the North Coast (from Santa Rosa to its southern-most point), San Francisco, Oakland and Central Coast Sections. The Sac-Joaquin Section represents itself, extending as far west as Benicia and Vallejo with a large number of member schools calling the Sacramento-metro area home.
These days there is plenty of sample size to draw from. Over the past five years (this season included), the two areas have played a shade more than 200 games against each other. That includes some of the smallest schools in California, and also takes into account powerhouses like Del Oro-Loomis, Pittsburg, Bellarmine-San Jose and Granite Bay.
From a pure numbers standpoint, the Sac-Joaquin Section holds the edge with 114 wins to the Bay Area’s 90. The raw data might be misleading in some ways, but what becomes apparent right away when comparing results between the regions is just how similar the areas have become.
The mystery hanging over such comparisons is gone, because teams are playing each other with greater regularity than ever before. It isn’t enough to just claim a school like Elk Grove is better than a school like Serra-San Mateo because chances are they have a common opponent or two.
And, of course, those engaging in this debate can always use the California Interscholastic Federation bowl series as a barometer. In the last five years, each region has participated in 10 bowl games. Each has won five. Want one big difference? The SJS has sent 10 different schools, while the Bay Area has only sent five.
In reality, there isn’t much of a rivalry anymore. Northern California is more united than ever when it comes to seeking out good competition because, for teams that cling to visions of a state bowl appearance, preparation doesn’t just come from within one section.
“Just seeing where we’re at from a NorCal perspective, we’re always trying to play quality teams,” said Del Oro coach Casey Taylor. “The philosophy we’ve taken is by the time league starts, we’re pretty battle-tested. Playing top talent from the Bay Area meant playing in playoff-like atmospheres.”
Taylor’s squad has been one of the most active in cross-region battles, having played five of them over the past five years. They’ve only lost once, and that didn’t come until earlier this season.
That one loss on the Golden Eagles’ ledger brings the discussion to the elephant in the room, because the trump card for the Bay Area has, at least for the better part of the last 35 years, resided at the corner of Winton Drive and Treat Blvd. in Concord. That’s where De La Salle has run roughshod over the North Coast Section, to the tune of 21 straight section titles.
Taylor and his crew got a chance to test themselves against the Spartans this season, dropping a lopsided 41-3 decision to the defending CIF Open Division champions. It served as a valuable learning experience for the Sacramento-area power, and carried a valuable purpose as far as Taylor is concerned.
“Playing De La Salle this year was an eye opener for us. They were on another level,” Taylor said. “But, it’s great for us to see what that level’s all about. It just shows us how far we are away from being an Open state champ.”
While Taylor looked at that matchup as an opportunity to test his squad, De La Salle’s neighbors see it differently.
As the Spartans’ section dominance has piled up, so has the apathy for NCS Division I teams. At the end of the day, De La Salle will always be waiting for the standout Div. I team that has aspirations of reaching a bowl game because a section title is necessary to qualify for a spot in Carson.
Deer Valley coach Rich Woods speaks from experience. In his tenure at the Antioch school, he’s had more than his share of talent. He has also coached in the Sac-Joaquin Section, coming to Deer Valley after a lengthy and successful stint at Vanden-Fairfield. Now, he battles along with every other NCS Div. I team for the right to, ultimately, line up against the Spartans in the NCS Div. I championship.
“There’s no other way, unless you beat (De La Salle), to go out and compete (for a state berth) because you’ve got to win the section championship to get to a state game. I think that makes it difficult,” Woods said. “It’s a wide-open game in the SJS because they always have a Division I and Division II champ. They’ve elevated their play and their commitment to their programs because they have that opportunity.”
Taylor agrees that the visibility of Sac-Joaquin Section teams has increased lately because of the section’s success in bowl games. But don’t assume the success of recent seasons is a new phenomenon.
“I think over the last five years, the bowl (series) has helped. There was a perception that Sacramento didn’t play good football,” Taylor said. “I think by playing those games against Cal High (San Ramon) and James Logan (Union City), I think it’s brought some attention to our area. I don’t think we’re trying to make a statement or anything but we’ve always had good football here in Sacramento.”
Woods said he began scheduling Sac-Joaquin teams as a way to play good competition without having to square off with teams he’d eventually hope to see in the playoffs. Taylor’s story is similar, having agreed to participate in a few charity-based events and landing matchups against Bay Area foes.
What they have in common is a healthy respect for one another. And, that feeling extends to the playing field as well.
Neither Taylor nor Woods feels the players read much into regional rivalry, and a recent game between Pittsburg and Granite Bay served as a perfect example. After both teams left everything on the field in a 39-35 Grizzlies win, Granite Bay receiver Marc Ellis chose not to claim regional dominance, but instead praise a worthy foe.
“Two years ago we got blown out. They were way bigger than us. Tonight, we just came to play,” Ellis said. “It’s always huge. We’re always out there to compete and they’re a great team.”
The debate over which region plays better ball will likely continue forever. As long as the debate remains though, each area continues to get better and better as a result.
And, that line that separates the two? It gets just a bit blurrier each season.
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