Prior to the opening of the SJS Football playoffs on Nov. 14, we took a glance at all six divisions.
With the Sac-Joaquin Section Football Playoffs beginning Nov. 14, SSM senior contributor Jim McCue breaks down each of the six playoff fields.
THE FAVORITE: Folsom (10-0) — The Bulldogs have yet to be challenged, winning their regular season games by an average score of 56-9. Senior QB Jake Browning has been nearly flawless, tossing 56 TD passes while having only four passes intercepted. The only thing that has slowed his pace to add the national record for career TD passes has been his lack of playing a full 48 minutes on a regular basis as Browning has sat out all or most of the second half of numerous blowout wins. Seniors Cole Thompson (22 TDs) and Josiah Deguara (16) have been on the receiving end of the bulk of Browning’s TD passes, and the Bulldogs have added 22 rushing TDs this season as well. The most overlooked and underestimated aspect of Folsom’s game is a staunch defense that may be relied upon more heavily in the postseason.
CONTENDERS: Jesuit-Carmichael (8-2); Granite Bay (7-3); Merced (8-2).
DARK HORSE: Monterey Trail (6-4) — The Mustangs opened the season 5-0 before running into the beasts of the realigned Delta League. Senior RB Trey Nahhas has rushed for 1,894 yards and Monterey Trail’s ground game has accounted for more than 3,000 yards of offense and 37 TDs. If the Mustangs can run free, they can send one or two higher seeds home early.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Cameron Smith (Granite Bay) — The USC-commit has been a dominant LB, recording more than 100 tackles and intercepting four passes. He is a fierce run-stopper that can also drop back and cover the middle of the field against the pass. Smith has twice reached 20 tackles in a game, including a monster defensive effort that fueled a tense 28-21 comeback win over Sierra Foothill League-rival Rocklin.
GAME WE WANT TO SEE: Tokay-Lodi at Cosumnes Oaks-Elk Grove — If the Tigers upset No. 4 seed Merced in the first round and the Wolfpack holds serve against Monterey Trail, then L.J. Reed will have a homecoming of sorts. The UCLA-commit was a standout wide receiver and power forward for Cosumnes Oaks before moving to Lodi and transferring to Tokay. While there were various rumors about the impetus for the transfer, a reunion would make for good drama off and on the football field with the 6-foot-3 star at the center of attention on the Elk Grove campus again.
FINAL PREDICTION: Folsom 49, Granite Bay 14.
THE FAVORITE: Grant-Sacramento (10-0) — The Pacers are back and perhaps better than ever. Junior RB DeShawn Collins has been a workhorse in the backfield after he was moved from WR early in the season. He has rushed for a team-high 1,760 yards and 23 TDs, eclipsing 100 yards in eight consecutive starts that include four 200-yard efforts. Backfield mate Mike Green II (854 yards, 14 TDs) gives Grant a potent 1-2 punch while senior QB Donovan Brown has been a steady presence and consistent passer. Senior LBs Chris Atteberry (110 tackles) and Carl Granderson (100 tackles, 9 sacks) head a feared Pacers’ defense that has shut down all comers.
CONTENDERS: Elk Grove (8-2); St. Mary’s-Stockton (9-1); Vacaville (8-2).
DARK HORSE: Del Oro-Loomis (5-5) — The Golden Eagles faced a more challenging schedule than any other SJS team, and they hope the lessons learned from those difficult battles will pay off in the form of another deep playoff run. Coach Casey Taylor has used a tough regular season slate to vault his squads to CIF State Bowl games in 2011 and 2013. Senior QB Logan Hurst has emerged as a leader, and junior WR/DB Trey Udoffia has been a playmaker on offense and defense. Senior Ben Hart and junior Justin Burrage command a stifling pass defense that has picked off 19 passes in 10 games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Khalil Hodge (St. Mary’s-Stockton) — The senior LB is attracting increased attention from recruiters, and has already been offered by Sacramento State. Hodge leads the section with 188 tackles, and has added two interceptions and forced a pair of fumbles. His leadership and play has the Rams seeking a return to glory.
GAME WE WANT TO SEE: Grant vs. St. Mary’s — Both teams would have to advance to the section final to meet up, but a North vs. South matchup of traditional powers would be a sight to behold. Both programs boast rich tradition that includes eight section championships in 11 trips to the finals. Plus, watching DeShawn Collins and Khalil Hodge square each other up would be worth the price of admission.
FINALS PREDICTION: Grant 35, St. Mary’s 17.
THE FAVORITE: Inderkum (9-1) — Coach Terry Stark got win No. 100 this season, but the 105th victory would mean the most to the veteran coach. That would mean that the Tigers win four times in the playoffs to result in the program’s first-ever section championship. Senior Austin Thurman leads a solid crop of RBs that fuel the Wing-T attack. Larry Hardy carries the ball on offense and has 6 INTs on defense where junior LB Derrick Henderson has caused havoc for opponents.
CONTENDERS: Sierra-Manteca (9-1); Oakdale (9-1); Manteca (8-2).
DARK HORSE: El Dorado-Placerville (10-0) — The Cougars have been opening eyes all season long while capturing the program’s first league title since 1983 when El Dorado won its lone section championship. Senior QB Nick Bonniksen has been a steady leader, and is a threat both running and passing the ball. Senior RB Tyler Clanin (1,245 yards, 19 TD) is the primary threat on the ground while senior Zach Culp has been Bonniksen’s favorite receiver. The Cougars have overcome all opponents thus far as well as the King Fire, which threatened the community, and caused a number of head coach Joe Volek’s players to be evacuated.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: Mark Paule, Jr. (Sierra-Manteca) — The junior RB started the season with four consecutive 200-yard games and scored 22 TDs before the calendar turned to October. He has remained steady through the Timberwolves’ 6-1 run through the realigned Valley Oak League — which has four teams seeded No. 4 or better in the section playoffs.
GAME WE WANT TO SEE: Oakdale at Sierra-Manteca — The Valley Oak League was a slugfest with its new alignment during the regular season, so another round of VOL rivals going toe-to-toe in the semifinals would be testament to the league’s strength and to the power football produced by Central Valley schools.
FINALS PREDICTION: Inderkum 28, Sierra-Manteca 24.
THE FAVORITE: Central Catholic-Modesto (7-3) — While the two-time defending state champion Raiders suffered as many defeats this season than in the last two years combined, they are still the favorite to get a shot at returning to a CIF State Bowl game. As a new member of the realigned Valley Oak League, head coach Roger Canepa’s squad lost to Division III powers Sierra and Oakdale, but gained valuable big game experience to carry into the playoffs. Junior RB Justin Rice stepped up in the NorCal and State finals last year and kept rolling in 2014. He rushed for 1,172 yards and 22 TDs to power the Raiders’ offense.
CONTENDERS: Sonora (9-1); Los Banos (8-2).
DARK HORSE: Escalon (7-3) — Coach Mark Loureiro and his Cougars are no stranger to the postseason, having won section and state bowl championships back in 2010. Escalon is making its 17th consecutive playoff appearance and has won its first-round game in each of the last 16 years. Loureiro became the winningest coach in SJS football history this year thanks in part to RBs Hunter Calton and Wesley Dick energizing the Cougars’ Wing-T offense.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jared Rice (Central Catholic) — The senior is a leader on both sides of the ball and has two state bowl championship rings. At tight end, he is an outstanding blocker and a valuable possession receiver with five TDs to show for it. On defense, he had five INTs after picking off seven passes from his safety position a year ago. Rice could become a rare individual with three state titles if Central Catholic can make another run.
GAME WE WANT TO SEE: Escalon at Central Catholic — 25 Sac Joaquin Section championships. 33 section title game appearances. Three CIF State Bowl game victories. That’s a lot of history to go along with outstanding programs guided by coaching legends. Add the entire town of Escalon caravanning to Modesto for the showdown and you have old school football at its best.
FINALS PREDICTION: Central Catholic 35, Sonora 21.
THE FAVORITE: Bear River-Grass Valley (8-2) — The Pioneer Valley League runner-up has not won a playoff game since 2005 (the Bruins have lost their last 6 postseason games), but the division is wide open for them to make a run at the second section title in the program’s history. Senior John Voter is a two-way force at RB and OLB, and a leader on and off the field. He has rushed for 654 yards and 12 TDs, and added 207 yards receiving and another five scores. On defense, he has 72 tackles and 2 sacks. Junior Kyle Uclaray is the Bruins’ leading rusher with 748 yards and senior LB Kyle Krogman has a team-high 107 tackles. Co-coach Terry Logue earned his 200th win earlier this season, and he guided Bear River to its lone section title in 1994.
CONTENDERS: Mariposa (7-3); Colfax (6-4).
DARK HORSE: LeGrand (7-3) — The Bulldogs have won the last four Division V titles and appeared in five consecutive championship games, so head coach Rick Martinez’s squad hardly fits the typical “dark horse” label. The young team is led by sophomore RB Carlos Iniguez, who has rumbled for 935 yards and six TDs as LeGrand finished as runner-up to Mariposa in the Southern League. Senior LB Cristian Nava is the heart and soul of the defense and the team, having made a team-high 113 tackles and adding four forced fumbles.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tim Rawlins (Colfax) — The senior RB has been racking up yards and TDs for the Falcons for three years. He has rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in his career at Colfax, including 1,259 yards and 24 TDs this season. A run to the section final to have an opportunity to claim the program’s fifth championship would be a dream ending to an amazing run in the foothills.
GAME WE WANT TO SEE: Bear River vs. Colfax — Just like other divisions have the opportunity for Central Valley showdowns, this would showcase two programs that epitomize football in the foothills. Two-way stars, smash-mouth rushing attacks, and communities coming together to support the team. A coaching duel between Terry Logue and Tony Martello would be a whole lot of fun, too.
FINALS PREDICTION: Bear River 24, Colfax 21.
THE FAVORITE: Capital Christian-Sacramento (10-0) — Head coach Phil Grams’ team is hitting on all cylinders with its sights set on a section title. Sophomore QB Jacob Norville has been solid, throwing for 1,153 yards and 17 TDs against just two INTs. Senior LeKayle Johnston has run well with Justice Shelton-Mosley to provide excellent balance on offense for the Cougars. Senior Luis Gomez leads a suffocating defense with 151 tackles, and Eddie Ware has nine of Capital Christian’s 16 INTs.
CONTENDERS: Golden Sierra-Garden Valley (8-2); Bradshaw Christian-Sacramento (7-3).
DARK HORSE: Ripon Christian (8-2) — The Knights are the No. 5 seed, but they could cause some trouble for top-seeded Capital Christian if they get past Golden Sierra. Running Backs Brian Sytsma and Kevin Kramer have combined to rush for 1,411 yards and 14 TDs while senior QB Billy Marr provides offensive balance with 1,508 yards and 13 scores. Junior LB/DE Will Kamps has 16 sacks this year to give him 36.5 for his career with another season to add to the total.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Justice Shelton-Mosley (Capital Christian) — The versatile senior is having another outstanding all-around season. He has rushed for 623 yards and nine TDs, caught 15 passes for 360 yards and two scores, and added a pair of punt return TDs. On the defensive side of the ball, Shelton-Mosley has patrolled the secondary and made two INTs and added a sack.
GAME WE WANT TO SEE: Capital Christian vs. Modesto Christian — This championship battle would be a rematch of the 2014 Fish Bowl in which the Cougars edged the Crusaders 23-22 in an instant classic. D-1 prospects Justice Shelton-Mosley and Caleb Blakeley — a 6-foot-3, 265-pound lineman with interest from Arizona, Cal, Oregon State, and San Jose State — would give a big-time feel to the smallest division final.
FINALS PREDICTION: Capital Christian 31, Bradshaw Christian 21.
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