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Complete NorCal regional bowl game previews: De La Salle gets new foe; Pittsburg-Folsom renew recent rivalry

Central Section Division 1 champion Clovis North makes long trek to Concord in battle of teams that like to grind the ball and clock while relying on stingy defenses

Sometime the grass isn't always greener. A fresh new path might be filled with pot holes or rocks or a bulldozer heading in your direction. . 

With the possibility of playing Sac-Joaquin Section power Folsom a fourth time over 15 months, De La Salle football coach Justin Alumbaugh was pleased that a California Interscholastic Federation football committee gave his team a new challenge.

Until he got a deep dive glance at the Clovis North Broncos, the Sparans’ Northern California 1-AA Bowl opponent Friday night. De La Salle (10-2) hosts the Central Section Division 1 champions (13-0) at 7:30 p.m.

The winner plays the Southern California 1-AA winner between Granite Hills-San Diego and Mission Viejo Dec. 8 at Saddleback College-Mission Viejo for the state title.

“Their offensive line is big and physical and their three runners play their tails off,” Alumbaugh said. “Their entire team does really. They are exceptionally coached. They are really impressive.

“If we can’t win the line of scrimmage, we have no chance.”

Speedy De La Salle quarterback Toa Faavae has rushed for 700 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2023.

Speedy De La Salle quarterback Toa Faavae has rushed for 700 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2023.

De La Salle’s seven-time state championship program isn’t where they were during its 151-game win streak era or even while winning state titles up until 2015, but the Sparans are still formidable. 

After opening the season with humbling losses to Orange Lutheran (35-14) and Serra (28-0), De La Salle has rattled off 10 straight wins going back to old-school principals, namely grinding out games with ball-control offense and playing stellar defense.

The Spartans have rushed for roughly three times more yards than passing, led by the trio of running backs Dominic Kelley (819 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Derrick Blanche Jr. (793, 7) and quarterback Toa Faavae (700, 14), all juniors. 

They’ve recorded two shutouts in the win streak and just three touchdowns in three other wins.

But Clovis North presents a downhill, ball-control offense De La Salle hasn’t seen, featuring a three-headed attack of its own, led by juniors, 5-10, 190-pounder Jackson Cinfel (1,863, 17), 6-2, 215-pound McKay Madsen (985, 18) and Andrew Chavez (574, 9). 

McKay Madsen exploded for 120 yards and three touchdowns last week in Clovis North's 24-14 Central Section title win over Central.  

McKay Madsen exploded for 120 yards and three touchdowns last week in Clovis North's 24-14 Central Section title win over Central.  

The Broncos won their first section title in 10 years while outsourcing opponents, 445-155, including a 23-7 throttling of Southern California Trinity League foe, JSerra Catholic.

De La Salle’s defense likely won’t be at full strength with 4-star lineman Matt Johnson and defensive backs Johnathan Guererro and Robert Santiago all questionable with injuries. None of them played in 17-7 North Coast Section Open Division title win over San Ramon Valley-Danville on Nov. 17.

“We’re motivated and excited because they are a great team,” Alumbaugh said. “But playing a new opponent adds some vigor. Can’t promise an outcome, but it should be a quick game.”

Here’s a look at the other 13 games with the winners moving on to the state finals that for the first time For the first time, instead of the lower division games played at home sites, the CIF implemented a three site plan in Southern California for championship games Dec. 8-9: Saddleback, El Camino College in Torrance and Pasadena City College. 

Which divisions go where will be announced Dec. 3.

Friday (all 7:30 p.m.)

Division 2-AA: Grant Union-Sacramento (11-2) at Rocklin (12-1) — Rare to have two teams from same section face off, rekindling the last meeting between the Sac-Joaquin Section powerhouses almost 14 years to the day. According to Joe Davidson of the Sacramento Bee, it was a section D2 semifinal game at Folsom and Rocklin prevailed 21-19 with a stirring goal-line stand. That game featured four future NFL players, including current linebacker Shaq Thompson (Grant). These teams are led by young quarterbacks, Rocklin sophomore Reeve Slone (2,273 passing yards, 21 TDs, 374 rushing yards, seven scores) and Grant junior Luke Alexander (2,863 passing yards, 41 TDs). Each have effective running games: Grant's Wayshawn Parker (1,732 yards, 21 TDs) and Rocklin's Derek Keeley (1,024, 19). 

D3-AA: Escalon (12-1) at Acalanes (9-4) — The host Dons, led by track stars Trevor Rogers (Cal commit) and Paul Kuhner must slow the potent Wing-T attack of Escalon (418 yards per game), the defending state 4-AA champs. Under 76-year-old head coach Floyd Burnsed, in his 40th year coaching, Acalanes didn't panic after an 0-3 start and have won nine of 10 behind, the one loss a disheartening 25-24 home game to Campolindo which would have given the Dons an outright league title. Instead they had to share it. Instead of melting, Floyd kept them on track with three section wins, including a 24-7 win over two-time defending state champion San Marin, which beat them to start the season. Kuhner returned the opening kickoff 97 yards and the Dons never looked back en route to winning their first section title. They'll be facing a team under coach Andrew Beam that has gone gone 60-10 since 2018. The 2023 squad is led by senior quarterback Donovan Rozevink (1,982 passing yards, 35 touchdowns), senior running back Joshua Graham (1,432 yards, 15 TDs) and junior receiver Sam Jimenez (67 catches, 982 yards, 18 TDs). 

4-AA: Casa Roble (12-1) at Soquel (11-2) — It's gonna be a long haul for Casa Roble (175 miles) any day, but Friday traffic is often a bear. But with Connor "Freaking" Campbell at QB, the Rams should be able to navigate any troubles. He's thrown for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns. Linebacker Evan Combs averages an absurd 16 tackles per game. Soquel won its first Central Coast Section title and is riding an eight game win streak, finsihed off with back-to-back shutouts of Monterey (22-0) and Christopher (28-0). 

D5-AA: Miramonte-Orinda (9-3) at Pleasant Valley-Chico (9-3) — One of the Bay Area’s best and most under-rated coaches Jack Schram led the visiting Matadors to their first section title in 10 years with a 42-20 win over St. Bernard’s-Eureka has the Matadors. It’s a long haul and big challenge trekking to Chico and the alma mater of Aaron Rodgers.

D6-AA: Palo Alto (8-5) vs. St. Vincent de Paul-Petaluma (11-2) at Casa Grande-Petaluma — St. Vincent, a private school of about 250 students, has been rolling since hiring former Casa Grande coach Trent Herzog in 2018 with a 40-12-1 record. The Mustangs, led by sophomore QB Gabe Casanovas (3,191 total yards, 44 TDs), should be hungry after losing last year’s NorCal regional to Clear Lake, 56-55. Palo Alto, with an enrollment of about 2,000 students, has benefitted from the competitive equity model. The Vikings have won five straight, including 34-33 over Mountain View for the Central Coast Section D4 title. The Vikings won the state Division 1 title in 2010 over Corona Centennial helped by the receiving prowess of current NFL star Davante Adams. 

D7-AA: Portola (12-0) vs. Ferndale (9-4) at Cal Poly Humboldt — It's supposed to be raining all day in the area, but it shouldn't effect Portola which run for 3,419 yards this season (only 825 passing), led by junior Magnus Berk (1,601 rushing yards, 28 TDs) and Cody Wilmer (1,208, 13). Ferndale, only 27 miles from Humboldt, has won four straight and recorded four shutouts on the season. 

Saturday (6 p.m. stars unless noted)

D1-A: Pittsburg (13-0) at Folsom (11-2) — One of the best matchups in the state, the Pirates will need to contain one of the best sophomore quarterbacks in the country in 6-foot-2, 210-pound Ryder Lyons (3,949 total yards, 54 touchdowns), who accounted for all five scores in a 34-27 SJS title win over Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills. Under first-year head coach Charlie Ramirez, the visiting Pirates have answered every challenge led by a terrific junior class led by QB Marley Alcantara, running backs Jamar Searcy and Elijah Bow, WR Bobby Shaw Jr. and 4-star defenders Jadyn Hudson and Jewelous Walls. Folsom defeated Pittsburg in 2021 (38-17) and 2022 (23-15).

2-A: El Cerrito (12-1) at Los Gatos (11-2) — Two Bay Area powers who have never met — at least since 2004 — and each are seeking its first regional crown. Los Gatos is led by a trio of three-year starters in two way standouts Jaylen Thomas and Scott Garwood, and runnback Boxer Kopcsak-Yeung (1,508 yards, 24 TDs). El Cerrito is led by Washington State-bound athlete Kamani Jackson, running back Micah Avery and QB Michael Vanhook.

3-A: McClymonds-Oakland (8-2) at Marin Catholic-Kentfield (12-1), 1 p.m. — McClymonds is hoping to send retiring coach Michael Peters out a winner but it will be a big challenge against a Marin Catholic squad led by two-way standout Charles Williams (1,200 rushing yards, 25 TDs, seven interceptions). McClymonds, winners of four state and six regional crowns, is 3-0 against the Wildcats including 33-22 when the teams last met in 2021. Marin Catholic won.a state title in 2021 and taken two regional crowns. 

4-A: Palma (9-4) at Hughson (10-3) — Palma, a long time CCS power, won its first section title in 12 years with a 38-20 victory over Alisal last week behind a freshman, Eli Dukes, who rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns and Logan Saldate caught his 15th TD pass off the season. Hughson boasts an explosive and balanced offense that averages 208 passing yards per game and 203 rushing yards per outing. QB Robert McDaniel has passes for 2,716 yards and 31 touchdowns. 

5-A: Woodland Christian (13-0) at Orland (11-1) — Woodland Christian opened the season with a 15-14 win over Bradshaw Christian, but since then it's been blowout city for the Cardinals, who have outscored foes 582-87. Everyone gets invloved as the Cardinals have had six different players throw passes, 12 players rush the ball and 11 catch it. For a roster of just 36, that's impressive. Orland has been nearly as dominant with a 568-168 point differential. The Trojans have barely been challenged since a 39-35 loss to Enterprise to open the season. Seventeen Trojans have carried the ball, with three rushing between 875 and 1,075 yards, led by Jaime Albarran (103 carries, 1,075 yards, 16 TDs) and Manny Rodriguez (76, 912, 17) and Diego Rico (96, 875, 12). 

6-A: Colusa (12-0) at South San Francisco (12-1) — The Cinderella story of South San Francisco hopes for another chapter against a Colusa team that has outscored foes 408-133 in the Northern Section. Colusa QB Bo Coronado has thrown for 2,267 yards and 26 touchdowns but SSF has allowed just 80 points all year with five shutouts. The Warriors shut down the program in 2021 because a lack of players but came back strong last year at 6-6 before the team's first CCS title last week since 1989. 

7-A: Lincoln (9-3) at Strathmore (10-4) — After its fourth state title since 2018, the Mustangs must travel about 250 miles to face a team Strathmore program that has an impressive resume having gone 83-13 since 2016 with a state title in 2017 (16-0) and three regional titles. The Spartans won the school’s sixth Central Section championship by beating Mendota 14-7 for the D5 title, a remarkable feat after head coach Jeromy Blackwell’s recovery from an 8-day self-induced coma after suffering a major heat stroke in August. Running back Jacob Poole has been a steady force this season with 1,568 rushing yards and 20 TDs and sophomore Geraldo Ruiz chips in with 546 yards and 7 TDs. The run-happy Mustangs from San Francisco will make the trip down to Strathmore (pop. 3,641 with exactly two streetlights). They are led by 5-8, 160-pound senior running back Jemele Newman who has season totals of 1,880 yards and 24 TDs and ran for 172 yards and two scores in the 35-0 win over Balboa in the San Francisco City championship game played on Thanksgiving Day.