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Del Oro hosts talented Lancers in 2-A NorCal title game Friday

By: Mike Ray
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When the St. Francis football team gets off the bus Friday in Loomis for its CIF Division 2-A Northern California Regional championship game with Del Oro, please excuse any unknowing onlookers who might think that the Lancers missed the turnoff to Levi Stadium.

In perhaps the most attractive CIF state bowl regional game slated for the Sacramento area this weekend, Del Oro (12-1) will take on a highly regarded St. Francis squad that is a defending 2-A state champion and comes to Loomis with a college-sized defensive front.

“They’re massive,” Serra coach Patrick Walsh told the San Francisco Chronicle last month. Walsh should know, his Padres lost to the Lancers twice this season, 42-7 in West Catholic League play and 38-8 in the Central Coast Section open semifinal two weeks ago.

“They’re physical, technically sound, good tacklers and they have two great corners,” Walsh added.

Del Oro coach Jeff Walters echoed Walsh’s sentiments.

“A very talented team,” said Walters. “But you have to realize that when you reach this level, everyone is good.”

By a quirk of fate, both Del Oro, which defeated Central Catholic of Modesto, 20-17, Saturday for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II crown, and St. Francis probably have cast a wary eye at each other this season.

In the Week 1 Honor Bowl played in August at St. Francis, which is located in Mountain View, the Golden Eagles opened the showcase with a 58-20 win over Oak Grove. That game was followed by St. Francis defeating Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, 23-12.

Comparatively speaking, St. Francis in Week 2 defeated Oak Grove, 35-7. St. Francis’ other loss this season came in Week 3 against De La Salle, 35-15.

That the Lancers are coming to Loomis is another story in itself. The No. 1 seed in the CIF Central Coast Section open division, St. Francis dropped a 31-30 double-overtime championship game Saturday to league rival Valley Christian.

However, because the CCS allows its top three open division runners-up to advance to regional play, Valley Christian grabbed the regional spot in the Division 1-A bowl game while St. Francis fell to 2-A.

“We’re playing a championship level team,” said Walters. “They went all the way last season and have a lot of players back.”

Some of those key players include the defensive front of Afa Sanft (5-foot-11, 310 pounds), Moses Vavao (6-3, 310), Dante Giusti (6-1, 255) and James Dinneen (6-4, 240). Another top defender for the Lancers is Stanford-bound outside linebacker-tight end Joshua Pakola (6-4, 255).

The top rusher for the Lancers is 5-foot-10, 235-pound Opeti Fangupo, who has gained 680 yards with 15 touchdowns. After an injury to starting quarterback Jack Perry in the fourth game of the season, 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior Ryan Daly has stepped in and thrown for 893 yards and 12 scores.

A year ago, St. Francis defeated Manteca, 28-23, for the Northern California Regional 2-A crown and then topped Grace Brethren of Simi Valley, 22-13, at Sacramento State for the state title.

In another postseason oddity, Friday’s Del Oro-St. Francis winner will advance to the 2-A state title game next Friday, Dec. 14, at 4 p.m. against Grace Brethren. That state championship game will be played at Cerritos College in Norwalk.

This is Del Oro’s fourth appearance in a state NorCal title game. The Eagles, 3-0 in title games, defeated Serra 20-19 in 2013, Liberty of Bakersfield, 28-24 in 2015 and Bakersfield, 57-16 in 2016.    

Special CIF championship ticket prices will be in effect with adult tickets set at $12 and seniors and students set at $8.