Del Oro pulls off miracle victory to claim Section Championship

By: Cameron Salerno
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SACRAMENTO STATE– Saturday night showed that despite not playing in three weeks, Del Oro was still filled with grit. Trailing 17-12 with just under two minutes to play, hope was running out for the Golden Eagles when Matt Smart made the biggest play of his life.

With Central Catholic facing third down and trying to run out the clock, Kyle Jacklich made a crucial mistake. Jacklich fumbled the ball, which was picked up by Smart, who then galloped 50 yards to the house for the game-deciding touchdown.

“When I saw the ball pop out, I just picked it up with two hands and started running,” Smart said on the game-winning fumble return. “I was just going for the end zone.”

It was the first time Del Oro had lead since 11:53 in the second quarter, but it would hold up as the final score of 20-17 for the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship, the 12th overall for the Golden Eagles’ football program.

Del Oro’s only points early on came off the right leg of Ryan Whalley, who converted on both of his field-goal attempts (41 and 44 yards.)

On the possession after Whalley’s second field goal, Central Catholic’s offense took a huge blow. Raiders’ quarterback Dalton Durossette was ejected in the third quarter for striking a Del Oro defender. Although Central Catholic would go on to score a touchdown on that drive with their backup quarterback, the offense shut down with Durossette departure.

“It was a big factor,” Del Oro head coach Jeff Walters said on Durossette’s ejection. “After that, we were able to make a few more big plays than they did.”

Trailing 17-6 with 6:53 to play, Carson Jarratt found Dawson Hurst from 9 yards out to cut the lead down to 17-12 after the two-point after attempt failed.

“I told my team before that drive one play at a time,” Jarratt confessed. “I knew we had to have a solid drive to keep us in the game.”

Del Oro’s defense would then take the field needing a stop. With Central Catholic already converting a 4th-and-short, time was running out for Del Oro to get the ball back to set up a game-winning drive.

Then a miracle of sorts occured when Smart picked up the fumble, ran down the sidelines 50 yards for the touchdown to give Del Oro a 20-17 lead. The Golden Eagles defense and special teams combined to force four turnovers on the day, including a game-clinching interception by Dante Pericin on the final Raider drive.

“Our defense is amazing,” Jarratt said. “They keep us in the game the whole time. I don’t think we could’ve done it without them.”

More than a calendar year after losing to Granite Bay in the 2017 section finals, Del Oro found redemption.

“It was in everyone’s mind the whole offseason,” Jarratt said on winning the section championship after losing last year. “It was a driving force for us to work so hard to get back here. To be able to come back the next year and win, it is so sweet.”

The person it may mean the most to at the end of the day may not be someone wearing shoulder pads and helmet. Jeff Walters came back to his alma mater two years ago after longtime head coach Casey Taylor departed to Capital Christian. Walters quarterbacked the Eagles before graduating from the school in 2004.

“I feel so blessed to be able to be a part of this community and whole experience,” Walters said holding back tears. “I’m at a loss of words. Being an alumni makes it that much more special.”

Del Oro and Walters’ season will remain alive. The Golden Eagles will now await its opponent for the NorCal regional bowl game, which is set for next week.

“I never saw myself in my wildest dreams being able to coach a team that is playing for a NorCal championship,” Walters said with a smile. “(Our team) is just so excited for whoever we play. It is going to be a great matchup no matter what.”