St. Mary's football coach Tony Franks (center) and players (from left) Cutler Salmon, Marcell Spady, Myles Cunningham, Demetrius Ferguson and Khalil Hodge are ready for a section championship. (CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD)
It’s here. The Sac-Joaquin Section championship weekend is upon us for football, and I have your quick-hitting gameday blog for the Div. II bout between No. 3 St. Mary’s and No. 1 Grant.
WHO: No. 3 St. Mary’s (12-1) vs. No. 1 Grant (13-0)
WHERE: Hornet Stadium, Sacramento State
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tonight
TICKETS: $12 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, free for children 5-and-under
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Khalil Hodge (St. Mary’s LB, Sr.) – Hodge leads the nation in tackles, and had a key INT last week against Elk Grove.
Carl Granderson (Grant LB, Sr.) - Granderson is all over the place, with 151 tackles and 14 sacks.
Marcell Spady (St. Mary’s RB, Sr.) – Spady, though quiet last week, has been good all year and the Rams need to run between the tackles to chase down a championship.
De Shawn Collins (Grant RB, Jr.) – Collins is a force, with 2,255 rushing yards and 27 TDs.
Stephen Gudino (St. Mary’s WR, Sr.) – Gudino is on fire, with five playoff touchdown catches and seven since Week 10 against Lincoln.
X-FACTOR: Last week, St. Mary’s dared Elk Grove and its sophomore quarterback Tyler Vander Waal to pass, and that plan worked perfectly. Grant is better at balance, so it will be interesting to see if the Rams load the box again, or if they give the Pacers more varied looks with more guys in coverage.
When Cutler Salmon made his decision about where he wanted to play college football, and spend the next four or five years of his life, for that matter, it was all in the family. He loves San Luis Obispo, the people there, the coaching staff and the Cal Poly football program direction.
But the coolest part might just be personal. Salmon’s parents both went to Cal Poly, and his dad Chip was a defensive end for the football team and competed in rodeo, too.
Thursday, Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh came to the Salmons’ house in Stockton, had dinner, and Cutler verbally committed. He’ll receive a full-ride scholarship.
“He’s a great guy, a great dinner, he’s just a cool dude,” Salmon said of Walsh. “It’s just a big deciding factor, you know: the personal touch.”
Cal Poly has also been in contact with Salmon’s senior teammate on the defensive line, Shane McDermott, Salmon said, but he doesn’t know what will happen. “That would be amazing, we’ve been playing next to each other for four years. We’re pretty much brothers,” Salmon said.
And, considering the Rams play the most important game of their lives tomorrow, the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship against Grant at 7:30 p.m. at Sacramento State, Thursday’s events felt even better.
“The best thing is you know you have a place to go. It makes senior year a lot easier to handle,” Salmon said. “It gives me a little bit of confidence, not cockiness, but confidence going into the section game.”
Tracy's Brandon Russell (left) protects the football in his team's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semis win at Granite Bay Friday. (TIM LLOYD/SPECIAL TO THE RECORD)
It’s been an honor to arrive at The Record, and cover one of San Joaquin County’s most compelling high school football seasons in some time.
St. Mary’s and Tracy football are still alive, and it’s December. No. 3 St. Mary’s plays No. 1 Grant Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Sacramento State for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship, while No. 7 Tracy takes on mighty No. 1 Folsom Saturday at 7 p.m. at Sacramento State for the Div. I crown.
Last week was my worst predicting games this year. I correctly took St. Mary’s to beat Elk Grove on the road in the Div. II semifinals, but thought Granite Bay would top Tracy in the Div. I semis, and Elliot Christian would beat Stone Ridge Christian in the Div. VII title game. I was wrong on both accounts.
Here are my predictions, with some analysis, on the two locally-flavored championship games, with another for Div. III.
FOLSOM over Tracy
I know somewhere, everybody on the Tracy football team is celebrating this. I also predicted Tracy to lose at Jesuit and Granite Bay in the Div. I quarterfinals and semifinals, and low and behold, they shocked the section. This time, though, would be an all-time upset.
And that’s not because Tracy isn’t great, because it is. It’s just Folsom is legendarily good, especially on offense, where quarterback Jake Browning has over 4,500 passing yards with 76 touchdowns to four interceptions. This team has five or six Division I commits, and is so good all over, it’s ranked in the Top 10 teams in the nation.
ST. MARY’S over Grant
Grant coach Mike Alberghini predicted this game would be “a slugfest.” Sounds about right.
St. Mary’s football looks to avenge its 2010 semifinals loss to Grant, and win its 11th straight game. The Rams’ defense has been unmercifully good in the postseason, and the offense has been firing all over.
St. Mary’s must deal with Grant all-around talents like senior linebacker Carl Granderson, he of 14 sacks, but has all of the size, speed and experience you could want.
This game is a coin flip, but I’m picking St. Mary’s because they just feel like a team that’s going to win a championship. Whether it be the Los Gatos win, clinched on a last-minute fumble recovery, or even the double OT loss at St. Ignatius, a turning point and a great motivator for this team.
INDERKUM over Oakdale
Should be an amazing game, in the mid 20s, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mustangs win their fourth section championship. But as fast as Inderkum is — both teams are Wing-T — its defense has made noise, with a shutout and six games where they held their opponents to 10 points or less.
Tracy football celebrates its upset of Granite Bay in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals Friday. (TIM LLOYD/SPECIAL TO THE RECORD)
Two weeks into the season, Tracy football was winless, star tailback Nate Jones was out with an injured ankle and the prospect of a section championship and a glitzy ranking was far away.
But the Bulldogs were and are unflappable. They’ve won 10 of their last 11, Jones is up to 1,300 yards and 20 touchdowns and Tracy has upset Jesuit and Granite Bay (OT) on the road in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs. They entered into MaxPreps’ and Joe Davidson’s NorCal Top 25 rankingsfor the first time last week, and jettisoned up them and the section rankings this week.
Here’s a quick look at Tracy’s new place in the pecking order, as well as St. Mary’s, which is also alive and faces Grant Friday for the Div. II championship at 7:30 p.m. at Sacramento State. Tracy gets Folsom Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Div. I bout at the same venue.
Tracy (10-3) is now fourth in the section rankings, below St. Mary’s, Grant and Folsom, and up to eighth from 24th in the NorCal rankings after another stunning win, over Granite Bay.
St. Mary’s (12-1) was already way up there, moving to third in the SJSCIF rankings, and seventh in the NorCal rankings, a notch below Bellarmine (sixth) and Sacred Heart Prep (fifth), two teams it could contend with for a NorCal bowl spot should it upset Grant.
Quarterback Jake Browning (left) and Folsom are Tracy's opponent in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game Saturday. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SACRAMENTO BEE)
Tracy football coach Matt Shrout said his team, after upsetting Jesuit in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I quarterfinals, was now “playing with house money.” No. 7 Tracy played that way again, stunning No. 3 Granite Bay 27-21 in OT in the semifinals, and will surely do it again Saturday.
Tracy plays No. 1 Folsom in a battle of Bulldog mascots, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium. My “Know Thine Enemy” blog returns to break down Folsom. Yesterday, “Know Thine Enemy” took a look at the Grant Pacers: St. Mary’s opponent in the Div. II title game.
Here you go:
No. 1 FOLSOM BULLDOGS
Record: 13-0, 6-0 Sierra Foothill League (Includes Granite Bay, Del Oro, Rocklin)
Playoff History: Knocked Tracy’s TCAL opponent Lincoln out of last year’s playoffs, 50-14
Championship History: Folsom is a five-time section champion, including Div. I title in 2013, and Div. II in ’12
Analysis: Folsom is so much more than just Browning, who’s famous at least in this state, and is a Washington commit. He owns all kinds of California passing records, and has set the single-season TD passing marks the past two years. His receiving corps is incredibly balanced, including Cole Thompson (1,421 yards, 29 TDs) and Josiah Deguara (1,420 yards, 22 TDs). Folsom also has two 500-yard rushers in Roger Neal and Bryan Weldy, and Bailey Laolagi, while he has less than 300 yards, has a team-high nine rushing touchdowns.
The Bulldogs have committed turnovers sparingly, and force over two per game, with 18 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries as a team. Besides Browning’s four interceptions, Folsom does not list its offensive fumbles lost.
Sami Eleraky stands 7-foot, making him perhaps the tallest man in Stockton. The sophomore center on the Pacific men’s basketball team said being that tall creates certain challenges off the court.
Born in Denmark to Egyptian parents, the good-natured Eleraky has a unique perspective on the inquisitive and unabashed nature of some Americans as it pertains to his height.
“Maybe like when you go grocery shopping, especially in America because Americans are really open people,” Eleraky said. “People asking questions and looking at you, it gets annoying. It depends on the occasion. Sometimes I’m OK with it. Sometimes, when I’m stressing, I’m not.”
Eleraky said questions range from “How’s the weather up there?” to “How tall were you when you were 5 (years old) because my little brother is 4-foot-5?”
He said sitting inside an airplane for hours on end isn’t much fun, either.
Really, Eleraky is a nice young man. You can ask him how the weather is up there.
Grant senior Carl Granderson is a defensive force, with 14 sacks and 151 tackles. (BRIAN BAER/THE SACRAMENTO BEE)
The Pacers aren’t to be trifled with.
No. 1 Sacramento-Grant football is unbeaten, and truly, an incredible test for No. 3 St. Mary’s in Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game at 7:30 p.m. at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium.
As I’ve done the first three weeks of the postseason, I’m doing a “Know Thine Enemy” blog, breaking down Grant, its current personnel, its history and what St. Mary ‘s can expect Friday. Tomorrow, I’ll have a “Know Thine Enemy” for Folsom: Tracy’s opponent in the Div. I final.
Record: 13-0, 7-0 Delta League (With Elk Grove, which St. Mary’s beat 23-15 on the road in the semifinals)
Playoff History: Grant is a six-time section champion
Head-to-head: Grant beat St. Mary’s 20-11 in the 2010 Div. II semifinals
My thoughts on Grant: St. Mary’s has beaten some great teams this year, whether large or small schools. Central Catholic, Los Gatos, Tracy, Rocklin and Elk Grove are at the top of that list. But Grant may be the toughest.
Oddly, when Grant went to Elk Grove, it won 26-19. St. Mary’s went to Elk Grove in the playoffs, and won 23-15. Both by a touchdown. Grant also destroyed a talented Jesuit team 52-14, and beat a talented Vacaville squad 49-26 in the semifinals. This could be a matchup for the ages. It’s a virtual home game for Grant, but it’s a big neutral site and St. Mary’s travels really well – like when it packed the visitors’ stands Friday in Elk Grove.
Look out for those key offensive and defensive players, Collins and Granderson, and many more of the talented Pacers.
St. Mary's defensive lineman Cutler Salmon (bottom) celebrates with teammate Dwight Jackson after Salmon recovered a fumble in Friday's semifinal win at Elk Grove. (CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD)
St. Mary’s football has unbeaten and No. 1 Grant waiting in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium. That’s enough to focus on.
But for the rest of us, the Rams’ case for a NorCal Division I bowl game appearance could be very compelling should they upset the Pacers. As impressive as that would be, and the 13-1 Rams’ resume would be, it still wouldn’t be a certainty to play another day.
Here’s a look at how Cal-Hi Sports and MaxPreps stack up St. Mary’s currently, and what could happen this weekend. NOTE: My weekly HS sports column in “The Record” will focus on St. Mary’s and its bowl-game chances this week, so stay tuned Wednesday night at recordnet.com and Thursday in the newspaper itself for a more detailed look at the situation.
1. De La Salle (Concord) 12-0
2. Folsom 13-0
3. Grant (Sacramento) 13-0
4. Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton) 12-0 5. St. Mary’s (Stockton) 12-1
6. Bellarmine (San Jose) 10-2
For St. Mary’s to have a real shot at a bowl game:
First of all, you gotta beat Grant, who most people presume will win and face Folsom in a battle of unbeatens and section foes in the NorCal Div. I game.
Bellarmine beats undefeated Sacred Heart Prep in the Central Coast Section Open Division bracket. Otherwise, Sacred Heart Prep would be unbeaten, and would have that edge, even if it’s a little superficial, over St. Mary’s.
The 10 CIF State commissioners, if St. Mary’s beats Grant and Bellarmine beats SHP, must favor the Rams’ better overall resume than the head-to-head. Because if it’s based on a common opponent, St. Mary’s lost to St. Ignatius in double overtime. St. Ignatius, which is in the CCS Div. III playoffs, is a team that Bellarmine faced and defeated. That’s the one common opponent, and could do in the Rams even if they topple Grant.
Tracy football's Jake Alvarado (top) has become a mainstay on the weekly "Helmet Stickers" honors blog. (RANDY ALLEN/SPECIAL TO THE RECORD)
It’s a good thing Tracy football has Jake Alvarado. That’s because Saturday, No. 7 Tracy plays No. 1 Folsom at 7 p.m. at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium, in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game. And Folsom features senior quarterback Jake Browning, a record-setter and University of Washington commit. Browning has 4,652 passing yards, 76 touchdowns and four interceptions this year.
Thing is, Alvarado’s among the section’s best ball hawks. And he continued that last Friday in the Bulldogs’ 27-21 overtime upset of No. 3 Granite Bay, leading off my “Helmet Stickers” honors for the section football playoffs, Part III.
JAKE ALVARADO (Tracy S/WR, Sr.)
Alvarado nabbed his ninth interception in 13 games Friday, as Tracy shocked the section yet again with another road playoff victory. He can do it all, like the week before, when he had two touchdown runs and another TD catch at Jesuit.
JOSH CLARKE (Tracy CB/WR, Sr.)
Clarke grabbed the biggest interception of his life, picking off Granite Bay in the end zone to seal the 27-21 overtime win after junior fullback Courtney Hawkins had an OT rushing touchdown. That came after he had a 57-yard TD reception and two blocked PATs against Jesuit.
NICHOLAS HALL (St. Mary’s K, Sr.)
St. Mary’s hasn’t needed much of a kicking game this year, what with quarterback Noah Righetti slinging 32 touchdowns, and all, but Hall was obviously ready for the semifinals against Elk Grove. In the 23-15 Rams’ win, Hall hit all three field goal attempts, from 30, 26 and 23 yards. Those may not be record-setters, but any field goal in the playoffs is difficult. Just ask Granite Bay, which got “triple iced” by Tracy coach Matt Shrout, eventually sending the game to OT.
RICKY PADILLA (Elliot Christian WR/DB, Sr.)
Padilla was all over the place in the Eagles’ hard-fought, 19-14 loss in the Division VII finals Saturday, with an interception and a fumble recovery.
DAVID LERMA (Elliot Christian WR/DB, Sr.)
Lerma was on-point at receiver for the Eagles, with six catches for 130 yards, and TD grabs of 18 and 42 yards from quarterback Holden Butler.
KHALIL HODGE (St. Mary’s LB, Sr.)
Hodge had 16 tackles heading into the fourth quarter Friday, is the nation’s tackles leader and has been the heart of a menacingly-good St. Mary’s defense all season. He also grabbed a lame-duck interception after Daniel Montijo drilled the quarterback as he was throwing.
St. Mary's linebacker Khalil Hodge (left) waits to tackle Elk Grove's Spencer Sheff during their Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal Friday. (CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD)
Just as it’s difficult for an NFL Defensive MVP to gain the some notoriety as an Offensive MVP, or a Super Bowl MVP, for that matter, it’s tough for those guys to earn one of my Player of the Game nods. It’s not for lack of effort, or because I’m an offense-obsessed reporter, but it’s tough to accumulate the right statistics to stick out.
Often this season, St. Mary’s senior linebacker Khalil Hodge, the nation’s tackles leader entering Friday, has been one of the best if not the best players in the Rams games I’ve seen. And so it’s only appropriate that after the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinals, when St. Mary’s shut down Elk Grove and its vaunted rushing attack, that Hodge — and really, the entire defense — gets the honor.
Hodge, who had 16 tackles heading into the fourth quarter Friday — I’m still awaiting final stats — was fantastic again. A batted down pass in the first half killed a Thundering Herd drive, and in the fourth quarter, when teammate Daniel Montijo hit QB Tyler Vander Waal, Hodge nabbed the floating ball for an interception.
That’s why Hodge is my Player of the Game.
STEPHEN GUDINO (St. Mary’s WR, Sr.)
Once again, Gudino was the Rams’ leading receiver, with three catches for 77 yards, and had a dazzling 67-yard touchdown from QB Noah Righetti on a slant-and-go. He also had a touchdown on a slant called back on a block in the back.
DANIEL MONTIJO (St. Mary’s LB, Sr.)
Montijo can get lost in the shuffle in terms of press, but really, he’s a key unselfish piece in one of the section’s best defenses. And that hit on Vander Waal that forced the interception helped seal the win Friday.
NICHOLAS HALL (St. Mary’s K, Sr.)
Kickers either have no pressure or all the pressure in the world. And were it not for Hall’s three field goals of 30, 26 and 23 yards, St. Mary’s might’ve ost to Elk Grove 15-14 (Just adding the points, not saying that actually would’ve happened).
The Rams’ kicking game hasn’t been used all too often this year, because hey, when you’re unloading touchdown after touchdown, all you need is the extra point. But Hall obviously kept himself ready, and was clutch on Friday.
DEMETRIUS FERGUSON (St. Mary’s WR, Sr.)
Ferguson had a team-high four catches for 65 yards, showcasing some great hands and speed, and recovered the game-sealing onside kick in the rain late.
Bob Highfill has worked in The Record's sports department since 1990. He has covered a variety of sports, including high schools, Pacific and professional sports. In 2006, he was named sports editor. Bob is a graduate of Lincoln High and the ... Read Full
Linesburgh has been a member of The Record's sports department since 1988. A native of Wantagh, N.Y., he has covered the Stockton Thunder hockey franchise since its inception in 2005 and has spent more than two decades reporting on motorsports and ... Read Full
Lawrence became a prep and general assignment sports reporter for The Record in August 2014. He has covered high school, college and professional sports and more in his career. From November of 2011 through summer 2014, he covered college and prep ... Read Full