The NorCal Regional Games of the Week feature kicks off the 2019 season with some games that will have a fair amount of significance as the season progresses, particularly with the competitive equity factor so important when it comes to playoffs and seedings.
We go with four games, and of course the match-up of nationally-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale, Florida invading Concord to face De La Salle in a nationally televised game on ESPNU gets top billing.
The other three games all involve match-ups of CIF North Coast Section and Sac-Joaquin Section teams, and all should be good games.
St. Thomas Aquinas-Fort Lauderdale at De La Salle, Friday, 7:00 pm
You can’t say the Spartans are dodging ultra-tough competition as they come right out of the box hosting not only Florida No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas, but a Raiders team that is ranked as the preseason No. 1 team in the nation by USA Today and No. 10 in the Maxpreps Xcellent 25 preseason rankings. De La Salle is ranked No. 18 in the Xcellent 25 but is unranked in the USA Today top 25 rankings.
The teams met once before in Florida, and the Spartans faithful are hoping their boys can turn the tables after suffering a 30-6 defeat eight years ago, but it won’t be easy against a team that has a roster loaded with top recruits.
The Raiders have over 20 players that get three star ratings or higher by 247Sports. The top three players are 6-2, 195-pound Georgia-committed senior wide receiver Marcus Rosemy, Florida-committed 6-2, 210-pound senior linebacker Derek Wingo and 6-5, 305-pound offensive lineman Marcus Dumervil, who has just under 50 D1 offers including every major program in the nation.
Both teams are itching to win another state championship. Aquinas has won 10 Florida state titles but the last one came in 2016. Last season the Raiders went 13-2 and lost to nationally-ranked Lakeland in the Florida Class 7A title game.
De La Salle has played for a state championship ever since the CIF re-instituted them in 2006, and although they have won seven times, the last time was in 2015, and since then in the past three Open Division championship games that have been a bit overmatched in losses by 23 points to St. John Bosco-Bellflower in 2016, by 31 points to Mater Dei-Santa Ana in 2017 and 35-21 to Mater Dei last year in a game they trailed 28-7 at the half.
To make some noise against Aquinas, the skill players like 5-9, 185-pound running back Shamar Garrett, 6-1, 190-pound junior quarterback Dorian Hale, and 6-2, 195-pound senior wide receiver Grant Daly, will have to make some big plays, and a somewhat inexperienced offensive line will have to perform, and the defensive line anchored by 6-0, 270-pound senior Benjamin Roe will have to find a way to slow down Aquinas.
De La Salle has been in this kind spot many times besides the first meeting with Aquinas and you can never count the Spartans out.
Liberty-Brentwood at Vacaville, Friday, 7:00 pm
Defending CIF Division 1-A Bowl Game champion Liberty is coming off a 13-1 season with a lone loss to De La Salle in the NCS Open Division championship, and opens defense of its title on the road against a Vacaville team they beat 35-10 in last year’s season opener.
The Lions graduated a lot of offensive firepower but not Jay Butterfield. In last year’s game the 6-6, 215-pound Oregon-committed quarterback completed 16 of 28 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
Liberty only gave the ball to Brenden Bell twice for 11 yards rushing and he only caught one pass for 18 yards, but look for Coach Ryan Partridge to get the ball in his leading returning rushers hands more often and Bell will likely show right away what he can do on offense and defense.
Last season, Bell, a 5-10, 185-pound senior running back and safety rushed for 429 yards and six TDs and caught six passes, had 49 tackles with seven for loss, plus a sack and a two fumble recoveries, plus he even returned some punts.
Opening the holes for Bell and fellow running back Darrion Bartley will be 6-1, 265-pound senior offensive lineman Payton Zdroik. Who will emerge as the primary receivers remains to be seen, but we should get a good gauge after tonight’s game.
Other Liberty players to look for in week one are 6-2, 230-pound senior tight end and defensive lineman Peyton Borreli, 6-4, 250-pound junior two-way lineman Akili Calhoun, 6-2, 310-pound junior lineman Clemone Kennedy, and 6-0, 210-pound senior linebacker Mason Padilla
Vacaville finished 6-5 last year with a season-ending loss to Elk Grove in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs. Coach Mike Papadopoulos always put a competitive Bulldogs team on the field and this season should be no different.
Quarterback Jeremy Villalobos returns after the senior passed for 899 yards and eight touchdowns. Two solid running backs return as well. Senior Chris Island rushed for 411 yards and five TDs and Dylan Warfield had 358 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. The duo also combined for three TDs receiving.
Liberty will be favored but in week one on the road anything can happen.
Pittsburg at St. Mary’s-Stockton, Friday, 7:00 pm
Last year was a bit of a shocker as very few people expected Coach Vic Galli and his Pirates to roll St. Mary’s but they did in a 48-7 shocker at home after coming off a double overtime loss to Clayton Valley.
Pittsburg went on to a 7-4 season after bowing out to De La Salle in the NCS Open Division opening round semifinals.
Although they went on to go 5-0 in the Tri-City Athletic League Coach Tony Franks and his boys had a bit of a subpar season with a 7-5 record but they did make it to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals before losing big to Folsom.
That was then and this is now.
Pittsburg lost a lot of players to graduation, but still has a lot of skill players and size.
As for quarterback, according to sources he hasn’t decided on a starter, and may use both 6-3, 170-pound senior Jerry Johnson, and 5-11, 178-pound senior Santino Chavez, a transfer from Rodriguez-Fairfield who transferred to Pittsburg last year after starting for Rodriguez in 2017. Johnson played in six games last season and threw for 451 yards and five touchdowns.
The top returning running back for Pittsburg will be speedy 5-7, 175-pound Avant Muldrow (382 yards and three TDs rushing last season) and he’ll be running behind a line anchored by 6-3, 290-pound Samiuela Fonongaloa.
Other players to look for on opening night are junior running backs Daytuawn Pearson and Maurice Jamison, and senior wide receivers Johnny Blackmon III and James Battle III and up and coning freshman Rashid Williams. Another impact player could be 6-6, 315-pound lineman Ryan Lange.
St. Mary’s returns 6-2, 200-pound quarterback Noah May (1,339 yards passing, 12 TD’s, eight interceptions) for his senior season, but early on he struggled last season and was only 11-for-30 for 84 yard and no TDs with two interceptions against Pittsburg. May will need to improve or he could be challenged by 5-11, 175-pound junior Michael Chavez, who can run the ball.
Look for junior Tyrei Washington to get the most work at running back. He had 658 yards and 11 TDs last season. The primary wide receiver looks to be big and strong 6-3, 210-pound Elijah Wood. He had 19 catches for 304 yards and four TDs last season.
Granite Bay at Monte Vista-Danville, Friday, 7:00 pm
The third North Coast Section versus Sac-Joaquin Section showdown featured besides Liberty at Vacaville and Pittsburg at St. Mary’s will have the NCS with the home field advantage and this match-up could be the most interesting of the three.
Last year Monte Vista went on the road and scored the only touchdown of the game on a game-opening 90-yard kick-off return by 5-11, 180-pound senior Jacob Oliphant in a 9-3 grind it out victory.
The Mustangs went on to a respectable 7-4 season and 2-2 record in the East Bay Athletic League – Mountain Division before losing to cross-town arch rival San Ramon Valley in the NCS Division 1 quarterfinals.
Monte Vista sports one of the top returning players in the NCS in 6-3, 196-pound senior Nate Rutchena. If Coach Matt Russi and his boys are going to make some noise the two-way standout is going to have to have a big first game. Of his 45 receptions for 716 yards and seven TDs, five for 61 yards came against Granite Bay, and at linebacker he had 10 tackles with two for loss and a pass interception, and finished the season with 46 tackles, five interceptions and a forced fumble.
Another player that gives Monte Vista a solid duo at linebacker is 6-2, 207-pound senior Conor Shay. Last season he had 63 tackles with five for loss, plus he had one interception. He even caught two passes and took one 87 yards for a touchdown.
To beat Granite Bay the Mustangs will have to run the ball and primary running back Gavin Cribb will need a good game. Last year he had eight carries for 63 yards against Granite Bay and the 5-9, 185-pound junior finished the season with 646 yards but only 1 TD rushing. He also had 193 yards receiving and a second score.
Granite Bay did not have near the season they had in 2017 when they were 12-3 and finished 6-5 overall but they were 3-3 and tied for third place in the ultra tough Sierra Foothill League.
Coach Jeff Evans lost all his running backs that rushed for over 100 yards and the top returner appears to be 5-8, 160-pound senior Isaell McCall. The two top receivers, 6-1, 165-pound senior Ty Peterson, and 6-1, 205-pound senior Cobe Weeks, are back but they will be receiving passes from a new quarterback.
Monte Vista would seem to have an edge with the home advantage, but teams from the Sierra Foothill League are hard to beat and the Mustangs will likely get a very good game from the visiting Grizzlies.
This game is also being streamed on NorCal Sports TV.