PREP FOOTBALL: Sac-Joaquin Section crowns on the line this weekend
After three months of bruising blocks, pad-popping tackles, jaw-dropping runs and fingertip catches, there are just 13 teams still left standing in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Mariposa already claimed the Section’s Division 7 championship with a 17-14 overtime win over Denair last Friday, and 12 other squads will battle it out this week for the remaining six titles.
Here’s a brief look at each of the upcoming championship games.
Division 1: Monterey Trail
vs. Oak Ridge
For the first time since 2012, the D1 title game won’t include Folsom. That’s because No. 5 seed Monterey Trail (12-1) knocked off the No. 1 seed Bulldogs, 35-23, in last week’s semifinal. A bit of revenge for the Mustangs, who lost to Folsom in the 2018 D1 championship game. Led by running backs Caleb Ramsour (1,317 rush yards, 13 TDs) and Prophet Brown (674 rush yards, 14 total TDs) the Mustangs have scored 51 rushing touchdowns this season and are averaging 296.5 rush yards per game.
On the opposite sideline will be the No. 2 seed Oak Ridge Trojans (10-2), who are back in the D1 title game for the first time since 2013. The Trojans are led by junior quarterback Justin Lamson, who threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 73 yards in Oak Ridge’s semifinal win over No. 3 Inderkum. The D1 Championship game is set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Sacramento City College.
Division 2: Elk Grove
The Wildcats from Whitney have clawed their way through the D2 bracket in impressive fashion, winning all three of their playoff games on the road. The No. 9 Wildcats (7-6) entered the playoffs after a 4-6 regular season, but have toppled No. 8 Lincoln, No. 1 Rocklin and No. 4 Jesuit to earn their spot in the title game. Leading the way for Whitney is junior quarterback Eli Brickhandler (2,001 pass yards, 18 TDs, 9 INTs, 642 rush yards). Making Whitney run to the championship game all the more impressive is the fact they went 0-10 last season. The Elk Grove’s Thundering Herd (9-4) powers into the title game behind a ground attack that averages 389.8 yards per game and has accounted for 70 touchdowns this season. Leading the Elk Grove charge is a trio of senior running backs in Carter Harris (1,659 rush yards, 22 TDs), Hunter Hall (1,170 rush yards, 17 TDs) and Damian Allen (945 rush yards, 12 TDs). Elk Grove beat No. 11 Oakmont, No. 3 Vacaville and No. 2 Cosumnes Oaks to reach the title bout. The D2 championship game is set for 7 p.m. today at Sacramento City College.
Division 3: Placer vs. Manteca
The No. 2 seeded Placer Hillmen (10-2) are in a Section championship game for the fourth straight season after fighting their way through the D3 bracket and earning hard-fought wins over No. 10 Yuba City, 31-28, and No. 3 Buhach Colony, 21-20. Leading Placer’s Wing-T offense is senior fullback Hans Grassman (1,587 rush yards, 26 TDs) and senior running back Jesse Whigam (900 rush yards, 249 receiving yards, 14 total TDs). The Hillmen will now face No. 4 Manteca (10-2), which edged No. 5 Vista Del Lago in the second round and knocked off No. 1 seed Capital Christian, 20-14, in the semifinals. The Buffaloes are led by senior quarterback Ryan Ward (2,019 pass yards, 32 TDs, 5 INTs) and senior running back Trabron Russell (1,294 rush yards, 19 TDs). Manteca and Placer have championship history. Their most recent title bout came in 2016 when the Buffaloes topped the Hillmen, 50-28, in the D4 championship. The D3 championship kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday at Sacramento City College.
Division 4: Sierra vs. Oakdale
The No. 4 seeded Sierra Timberwolves (10-3) tore through their first two playoff opponents then shutdown No. 1 Rio Linda’s potent run game in the semifinals to earn their spot in the D4 championship game. The Timberwolves are averaging 42 points per game this season and allowing just 16.2. Junior running back Kimoni Stanley (1,728 rush yards, 31 TDs) leads the Timberwolves’ offensive charge, which leans heavily on the run game. The No. 2 Oakdale Mustangs (9-3) pounded their first two playoff opponents, beating Patterson, 67-21, and Merced, 51-27 en route to the title game. The D4 title game is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln High School in Stockton.
Division 5: Center vs. Ripon
The undefeated Center Cougars (12-0) have ripped through the D5 bracket, knocking off defending D5 champ and No. 9 seed Colfax, 62-7, in the second round and toppling No. 4 Bradshaw Christian, 42-12, in the semifinals. Led by their dynamic dual-threat quarterback Michael Wortham and a stingy defense that allows just 9.8 points per game, the Cougars are back in a Section title game for the first time since losing to Placer in the 2017 D4 championship. The Cougars will be facing No. 2 Ripon (11-1), which edged past Amador, 34-33, in the semifinals. Ripon is balanced in its offensive approach, which is led by quarterback Nico Ilardi (1,248 pass yards, 16 TDs, 2 INTs) and running back Danny Hernandez (971 rush yards, 247 receiving yards, 12 total TDs). The D5 championship gets going at noon, Saturday at at Sacramento City College.
Division 6: Escalon vs. Hilmar
It’s a battle between Trans Valley League powers. The No. 2 Hilmar Yellowjackets and No. 1 Escalon Cougars both went 11-1 on the season and 5-1 in league play, earning a share of the TVL title along with Ripon (11-1, 5-1). Escalon won the matchup earlier this season, 34-21, behind an impressive run game. Leading Escalon’s prolific offensive attack is senior running back Kaden Christensen (1,277 rush yards, 446 receiving yards, 24 total touchdowns). As a team, Escalon is averaging 39.6 points per game. Hilmar comes into the contest with a potent offense as well, averaging 37.5 points per game behind the play of junior quarterback Seth Miguel (1,758 pass yards, 25 passing TDs, 3 INTs, 453 rush yards). The D6 title bout is set to kick off at 1 p.m., Saturday at Lincoln High School in Stockton.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4232.
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