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First impressions

As prep football begins tonight, we break down the matchups
By: Mike Ray
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First impressions can sometimes be lasting ones.

If that’s the case, area prep football teams will be looking to put their best foot forward Friday night when the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section kicks off its earliest football schedule in section history.

Opening zero-week games on the slate Friday have highly touted Placer, with a No. 6 preseason rating in the Sacramento area, traveling to Sheldon High to take on Pleasant Grove, No. 4 Del Oro heading to the East Bay to tackle Amador Valley in Pleasanton, Colfax entertaining Golden Sierra, No. 19 Bear River heading to South Tahoe and Foresthill playing Turlock Christian in a game that will be played at Hilmar High School.

It should be noted that while all of Friday’s games are non-league, they will all carry weight down the road into the section’s new playoff format, where for the first time, Calpreps.com’s respective team ratings will help seed the postseason.

“Winning a league championship is still a team’s goal, but all of these games are important now,” said Bear River co-coach Terry Logue. “You really want to win them all the way this new system is set up.”

According to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, league champions or co-champions are the only teams now receiving automatic berths to the playoffs. As for at-large teams that are trying to qualify, teams must have at least four wins.

“It does put an emphasis now on trying to win as many games as you can,” said the Bear River coach. “Before, it was two league wins, and you went from there. This is a bit different.”

Here’s a look at Friday’s games with last season’s records noted in parenthesis

 

Placer (13-2) vs. Pleasant Grove (3-7) , Sheldon High School 7:30 p.m. – “Improved” is the word Hillmen coach Joey Montoya uses to describe this year’s Pleasant Grove football team after the Placer staff viewed the Eagles’ scrimmage last week.

“I think they’re a very improved football team from last season,” said Montoya, whose Hillmen defeated the Eagles, 49-30, in last season’s opener in Auburn.

Montoya and his staff took in the Eagles’ scrum last weekend in a jamboree with Inderkum, Vacaville, Casa Roble and Sacramento High.

“Pleasant Grove did well against all of the teams there,” said Montoya. “They’re athletic. The quarterback has guys to throw to. They have a good back, and their offensive line looked good.”

Pleasant Grove, a Division I school with 2,500 students, is coached by Matt Costa, now in his second season after coming over from Kennedy.

“We’re in a building mode, but we like where we’re at,” said Costa. “I’m trying to get our program to where Placer is. Those kids know how to win.”

Pleasant Grove’s starting quarterback is junior Nathan Valencia (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) while the Eagles’ top running back is Jeremiah Johnson (6-2, 215). Costa also singled out his two guards, Tommy Medellin (6-3, 295) and Charlie Tollner (6-3, 320).  

 

Golden Sierra (3-7) at Colfax (9-4), 7:30 p.m.  – When Billy Wright suited up for the Grizzlies in the late 1990s, the Golden Sierra-Colfax matchup was usually for the Golden Empire League title. Wright, who played running back and linebacker for coach Terry Cox in the Grizzlies “Cox Box” heyday, is now Golden Sierra’s new head coach taking over from Jeremy Norby.

“It’s been going good,” said Wright about his team’s opening practices. “We don’t have a whole lot of numbers, but the kids are working hard. We feel we can be competitive this season.”

A year ago, despite a 3-7 overall mark, the Grizzlies stayed in the playoff hunt right down to the final two weeks of the season before falling to Highlands, 48-20, and eventual D-VII champion Rio Vista, 55-34.

So far this season, Wright has moved his son Keaton to running back after he played quarterback last season as a sophomore. Stepping in to do the signal-calling will be senior Tieylr Breland, who played receiver last season.

Starting linebacker-fullback Adam Pivin has been slowed in early drills by an injury and may miss the team’s first two games. Wright is hoping that some of the slack in Pivin’s absence will be picked up by a pair of sophomores in Seth Archer and Devin Lake.

“We’re young this season, but the kids are really working hard,” Wright added.

Colfax also has some early nicks as the Falcons may be without the services Friday of  speedy wide receiver Colton Reeves and 6-foot-7-inch target Maxx Wolff. Reeves’ absence will be felt after he caught 38 balls for 568 yards and six scores in 2017.

In the JV preliminary game, after Golden Sierra and South Tahoe dropped JV programs, Bear River will meet Colfax at 5:15 p.m.

 

Del Oro (8-6) at Amador Valley, Pleasanton (7-5), 7 p.m. – This intersectional game came about from the friendship that Del Oro coach Jeff Walters built with Amador Valley coach Danny Jones from Walter’s days coaching at Liberty High in Brentwood.

“Amador’s coach and I are buddies, so we said, ‘Hey, let’s play’,” said Walters. “They have a solid program. It will be a test for us.”

Last season, Amador Valley, a school of 2,400, posted a 7-5 record and advanced to the second round of the CIF North Coast D-I playoffs. The Dons defeated Deer Valley, 26-13, in the first round before being defeated by Freedom, 38-20.

One player that you figure that Del Oro will be trying to muster a defensive game plan for is Amador Valley quarterback Dominick Mazotti.

A 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior, Mazotti threw for 1,102 yards and 10 TDs last season as a junior. A sprinter on the Dons’ track team who also high-jumped 6 feet, 4 inches last spring, Mazotti also ran for 488 more yards and six scores.

“He makes them go,” said Walters of Mazotti. “He’s a big kid with a good arm, and he’s a very good runner too. He definitely has our attention.”

 

Bear River (10-4) at South Tahoe (5-5), 7:30 p.m. – Years back, this matchup would have been an old Golden Empire League game. Bear River, which came into existence in 1985, was a school that helped fill South Tahoe’s place in the GEL when the Vikings left for Nevada in the early 1980s. Now, it’s a game matching two teams that have never played before.

“We’re a young team,” said South Tahoe coach Louis Franklin. “We’ve disbanded our JVs and brought every one up. We’ll be starting seven or eight sophomores on each side of the ball.”

Last season, the Vikings, who play in Northern Nevada’s 3A division, were a senior-oriented team that had a 2,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and two 750-yard receivers.

“We had a special group,” said Franklin, who came to South Tahoe from Tokay High in Lodi. “Now, we’re ready to move on to a new chapter.”

Bear River will head to South Tahoe coming off a strong scrimmage showing against Nevada Union. Seniors Calder Kunde and Dylan Short team with junior Tre Maronic to give the Bruins some versatile offensive threats.

 

Foresthill (3-7) at Turlock Christian (4-6), Hilmar High School, 7 p.m.  -  A year ago, the Eagles from Turlock ventured to Foresthill and left town with a 28-26 overtime win. This year, Foresthill coach Steve Collier is hoping that experience gained from 2017 will carry over to this season.

“We only had six seniors last season,” said Collier. “We were really young. Now, we’re a year older, and hopefully that will pay off.”

Collier was impressed in Foresthill’s scrimmage action last week with quarterback Kaiden Pennington, who directed the Wildfires’ offense behind a line that included Steven Radford, Casey Baldwin, Andrew Fleming, Drew Stroup and Robert Schredl.

 

Mike’s Picks:

Opening week football games are usually the toughest ones to forecast. Anyway, here we go…..


Placer 31, Pleasant Grove 20 – Hillmen Faithful are comparing this year’s Placer team to some of the school’s powerhouses from the 1970s and 80s.


Del Oro 23, Amador Valley 20 – The Golden Eagles have a bona fide, college-level kicker in Ryan Whalley.


Colfax 26, Golden Sierra 12 – The Falcons must replace over 5,000 yards of total offense with the graduation of running back Mason Ahrens and quarterback Ryland Heimann.


Bear River 33, South Tahoe 12 – Bruins head to Lake Tahoe in first ever meeting between the two schools.


Turlock Christian 21, Foresthill 20 – The Eagles nipped the Wildfires in OT last season.


Elsewhere:  Rio Linda 19, Center 17; Foothill 35, Mira Loma 16; Natomas 35, Marysville 23;  Mesa Verde 17, Lindhurst 7; De La Salle 31, Folsom 28; Rocklin 23, Antelope 20;  Oak Ridge 35, Lincoln 25; Oakmont 14, El Camino 12.