By MARK TENNIS | Special to SportStars
In any ranking such as this one, criteria needs to be explained right off the bat.
First, by using the term greatest, this is not a ranking of teams that if they lined up against each other, we think No. 1 would beat No. 2, etc. That’s not fair to teams from the past, which didn’t get to play in CIF bowl games. Some didn’t even have section playoffs and frankly played before the game evolved to more complicated offenses and defenses.
By saying greatest, we are bringing elements into the mix such as historical significance and how much more dominant a team was compared to its own contemporary competition, not just in the Sac-Joaquin Section but for Northern California and the state in general. Talent of the players on each team and what some of those players may have accomplished later in their careers also was considered.
NOTE: Vallejo is currently an SJS member, but its 1954 team (regarded as one of the greatest in state history) was not considered eligible for this list. We did consider teams from even before the SJS was formed in 1942 if those schools are in the Sacramento-Stockton region.
1. CORDOVA-RANCHO CORDOVA 1975 (11-0)
Sure, Folsom’s 2014 machine could just as easily be on top, but unlike the Bulldogs (who were not No. 1 in the state) the Lancers were the 1975 State Team of the Year. They also don’t have to be behind five to seven De La Salle of Concord teams in a NorCal ranking like Folsom 2014 does.
Cordova ’75 also represents the best team from a decade of dominance by the Lancers under head coaches Dewey Guerra and Ron Lancaster that was the best decade any NorCal school ever had until De La Salle came along. Cordova went 102-6-1 in the 1970s, a record that wasn’t just the best in the state but the best in the nation.
Cordova capped its 11-0 season in 1975 with a 36-6 win over Highlands-North Highlands in the Sacramento area championship. This was one year before the SJS playoffs began, but Highlands, Vacaville and Bella Vista-Fair Oaks all had outstanding teams that were dispatched easily by the Lancers.
Max Venable, who later went on to become an MLB standout with the San Francisco Giants and other teams, was the most well-known of the 1975 Lancers. Quarterback Scott Jenner ran the wishbone offense so well that he went to Oklahoma. Darrell Venable (Max’s brother), Kenny Bowles (later played at UNLV) and sophomore Reggie Young all averaged 10 yards per carry during the nine-game regular season.
2. FOLSOM 2014 (16-0)
The Bulldogs check in at No. 2 on this list for obvious reasons, which includes a state-record 915 points scored, a state record for point differential in a season (915-166) and a 68-7 win in the CIF Division I state bowl game over previously unbeaten Oceanside.
Jake Browning’s insane year at QB, including 91 TD passes and 5,704 yards, was just part of the story. Folsom’s running game was churning by the end of the season and its defense was especially good at stopping the run.
Still, Folsom 2014 for some observers is a squad that will always represent unknown greatness. We’ll just never know if the Bulldogs would have won the CIF Open Division bowl game. They definitely could have, and if they had gotten to play De La Salle and beaten the Spartans prior to winning the CIF Open Division, this could have been one of the state’s very best ever and a mythical national champion as well. Too bad the CIF eliminated the NorCal Open Division game.
3. ELK GROVE 1998 (14-0)
One of De La Salle’s top teams ever also was in 1998, but many who saw Elk Grove the same year would rate a possible matchup as a toss-up.
The Thundering Herd of co-head coaches Ed Lombardi and Dave Hoskins won the SJS D1 title with a 77-22 win over Atwater in which running back Lance Briggs scored six touchdowns. Elk Grove also beat a 10-0-1 Grant-Sacramento squad (led by future NFL running back Onterrio Smith) 38-8 and topped a 12-0 Jesuit-Carmichael club 41-7 in the Sacramento city final before 18,000 at Hughes Stadium.
Briggs, who also dominated at linebacker, has gone on to star in the NFL with the Chicago Bears. QB Ryan Dinwiddie later starred at Boise State.
4. FOLSOM 2010 (14-1)
This Folsom team can be compared to 2014 for the simple fact that it played tremendous competition and by the end of the season also finished No. 2 overall in the state. The loss came early to Grant, which eventually would rise to No. 1 in the state and No. 4 in the nation before getting slowed by injuries and then losing to Folsom in a rematch.
The Bulldogs of 2010 also faced a much stronger opponent in its bowl game as Serra-Gardena was on a 29-game win streak and had a talented team led by current NFL player Marqise Lee. Folsom 2010 also had its own breakaway threat with Jordan Richards (who should be in the NFL by next season), but it was a squad led by QB Dano Graves “” who passed for 62 TDs, rushed for 23 more and was the school’s first Mr. Football State Player of the Year.
5. GRANT-SACRAMENTO 2008 (14-0)
Head coach Mike Alberghini has had several teams that are worthy of top 10 in section history recognition, but his most historically significant team was 2008. This was the year when the Pacers faced CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division champion Long Beach Poly (ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation) and beat the Jackrabbits 25-20 for the first CIF Open Division state title.
Grant also defeated two state champions during the season “” Highland-Pocatello (Idaho) and Alta-Sandy (Utah) “” and had major weapons on both sides of the ball, including QB Kipeli Koniseti, junior RB Devontae Butler, WR Darvin McCauley and LBs Jordan Wallace and Jeremiah Toma. The Pacers were edged as State Team of the Year by CIF D1 champ Centennial-Corona, but that was possibly the best team Centennial has ever had.
6. MERCED 1990 (14-0)
With head coach Mark Speckman’s Fly offense, the Bears were one of the state’s top programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their 1990 squad averaged nearly 50 points per game, won its second straight section title, ended with 41 wins in 42 games and was a section finalist for the third straight season. The 1990 team, which was the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year and was as high as No. 5 in the nation, featured speedsters Jhay Roland, Anthony Volsan and Stephen Jackson. Unfortunately, Jackson was murdered in 2007.
7. GRANT-SACRAMENTO 2010 (13-1)
This is the best team in section history, by far, that did not win the section title. The Pacers were loaded with as many major college prospects that they’ve ever had, including junior RB/DB Shaq Thompson and massive nose guard Vei Moala. Early on in the season, due mostly to a nationally-televised 49-14 win over Folsom, Grant was ranked No. 1 in the state and as high as No. 4 in the nation. The team then seemed to get banged up by injuries and lost to Folsom in a rematch.
8. STAGG-STOCKTON 1964 (10-0)
The Delta Kings are the only team from the SJS during the 1960s to be considered as a Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year. They were a dominant force throughout the season, winning each game easily, and were led by running back Mark Marquess. He has gone on to become the legendary head baseball coach at Stanford.
9. CORDOVA-RANCHO CORDOVA 1985 (14-0)
The Lancers slipped for a few years after previous head coach Ron Lancaster left to coach back in his home state of Oklahoma. Then Max Miller took over and got them back to the pinnacle. Miller, who was just passed this season by Escalon’s Mark Loureiro as the winningest in section history, has said the best team he ever had was his ’85 Lancers.
This also was the first-ever 14-0 team in section history and to bring everything full circle it was a team led by quarterback Troy Taylor. He went on to star at Cal and of course is now the architect of Folsom’s offense as the co-head coach of the Bulldogs along with Kris Richardson. Cordova’s 1985 team was No. 2 overall in the state and was as high as No. 7 in the nation.
10. LODI 1928 (9-0)
Why not try to get one of the great old-time teams onto this list? The Flames qualify for going unbeaten and being considered as the best team in the state. This also was the first season after the CIF stopped conducting state football playoffs in 1927.
Lodi’s 1928 squad outscored its foes 257-31 and was led by center Larry Seimering and running back Tony Donadio. Seimering later played in the first-ever NFL championship game for the Washington Redskins against the Green Bay Packers. He also became a successful coach and appears as the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year for 1943 at Stockton High. Donadio is still regarded as one of the top running backs that Lodi High has ever had.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Cordova-Rancho Cordova 1977 (12-0); Cordova-Rancho Cordova 1979 (13-0); Elk Grove 1991 (13-1); Grant-Sacramento 2006 (13-0); Merced 1989 (14-0); Mira Loma-Sacramento 1972 (12-0); Nevada Union-Grass Valley 1993 (13-1); Stagg-Stockton 1975 (11-0); Stockton 1938 (9-0); Tracy 1982 (12-1); Vintage-Napa 1980 (14-0).