Story by CHACE BRYSON | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH
SACRAMENTO — It started like so many other big-stage De La Salle High football games.
The Spartans needed just three plays from scrimmage to break Kairee Robinson free for a 60-yard touchdown run and De La Salle had a lightning-fast 7-0 lead over St. John Bosco-Bellflower in the CIF Open Division State Bowl Championship at Sacramento State on Dec. 17.
“I know my team,” Braves senior running back Terrance Beasley said of his thoughts as he watched Robinson race to the end zone in the games’s opening moments. “I knew we were going to battle back and knew we were going to fight back. I wasn’t scared at all.”
He was right, of course. That game-opening touchdown would be the only time Bosco (13-2) would trail in the game. Showing off their size, speed and power, the Braves left no doubt as to who the state’s best team was in 2016.
Bosco showcased several different players en route to a 548-yard offensive night and a historic 56-33 win over the state’s most legendary program. The 56 points was a whopping 14 more than any team had scored on De La Salle since 1979 — the year former Spartans coach Bob Ladouceur took over the program and built it into a nationally-recognized dynasty.
“Especially after seeing the movie (“When The Game Stands Tall”), it’s kind of surreal,” said Bosco junior quarterback, Re-al Mitchell, who finished 18 of 20 for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 50 yards. “I’m blessed with the situation, and this team. To come out do what we did, I’m happy.”
It was a perfect finish for the Braves, but it wasn’t a perfect season.
Bosco lost any legitimate shot at a mythical national championship in the third week of the season when it lost 35-20 to Bishop Gorman-Las Vegas in Long Beach. Gorman would go on to finish 15-0 and take the mythical national crown for itself. The Braves regrouped before stumbling again in late October in a 26-21 defeat to Mater Dei-Santa Ana.
“In the Mater Dei loss, we thought we should’ve played better,” Braves coach Jason Negro said. “We had a nine point lead in the fourth quarter with about four minutes to go and we just let it slip away. We just had to rebound. Our kids knew that we played pretty well and we’d have a chance at them again. That’s the biggest thing.”
They got their chance again in the Southern Section Div. I final and conquered the Monarchs 42-28. And if they had a chance to avenge the Bishop Gorman loss, Beasley was confident they’d have turned the tables on the Gaels as well.
“We came so far from Week 3 of this season,” Beasley said after the bowl win. “I’m sure (Gorman) has too. But I feel like we beat ourselves (against them). We stubbed our toes too many times that night. We beat ourselves.”
They didn’t do that against De La Salle. Instead, they forced the Spartans into the costly mistakes.
De La Salle (11-2) turned the ball the over four times, including three fumbles. The most costly fumble came with a little more than 11 minutes left in the game: The Spartans had picked up momentum with an onside kick recovery, a quick score on a 43-yard pass from Abel Ordaz to Isaiah Foskey, and then a Bosco botched snap on a punt attempt that left De La Salle in great field position to try and cut the lead to single digits. Robinson lost the ball on the first play after the failed punt and Travis Tuitasi recovered for the Braves — who promptly marched 72 yards for a 49-27 lead.
“That team is better than us,” Spartans coach Justin Alumbaugh said of Bosco. “Our margin for error was really small and we didn’t do the little things that we really needed to. We put the ball on the ground six times; we lost three. … You have to tip your cap. Those guys are really good, and they’re well coached. That’s a tough combo. We didn’t play well enough tonight. I liked our resiliency and I liked our scrap, but we didn’t do a lot of things too well.”
Bosco moved to 2-0 against the fabled Spartans program, also besting it in the 2013 Open Div. Bowl Championship. The Braves are one of just five programs (the fourth from California) to have multiple wins against De La Salle sine 1979. They joined Salesian-Richmond, Mission Viejo, Clovis West-Fresno and Don Bosco Prep-Ramsey (N.J.).
“It’s great,” Beasley concluded. “It’s an amazing feeling to be part of this team and it’s an amazing feeling to be part of this program for four years, and stay in it and be patient — and now we’re state champions.”