What if NorCal Open Division Bowl Games had been going on for years?

Posted on December 4, 2012 by

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Sacramento Grant coach Mike Alberghini gets Gatorade bath as his 2008 team is about to beat Long Beach Poly in first CIF Open Division bowl game. Photo by Scott Kurtz.

Sacramento Grant coach Mike Alberghini gets Gatorade bath as his 2008 team is about to beat Long Beach Poly in first CIF Open Division bowl game. Photo by Scott Kurtz.

Yes, De La Salle would have been in it almost every year, but there had to have been some other teams in the region that might have been the Spartans’ equal or better. Check Wednesday for What if the SoCal Open Division Bowl Games had been going on for years?

We’ll have final predicted scores for all five CIF NorCal bowl games coming on Thursday and we want to know what many of our users think will happen.
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These matchups were chosen using the Northern and Southern California boundaries set up by the CIF, which means the Central Section is considered in the South and thus not eligible for a Northern California Region championship. That being said, it would make a lot more sense to move the Central Section to the North to more effectively balance the state, especially since many of the best Central Section teams come from the Fresno area anyway.

In the new CIF bowl game format that is beginning this week with De La Salle of Concord taking on Folsom on Saturday at Sacramento State, two teams from any playoff division in the Central Coast, North Coast, Sac-Joaquin, Northern, Oakland or San Francisco sections are chosen to face each other in an Open Division bowl game.

At the suggestion and with the help of longtime subscriber and San Francisco Bay Area prep sports fan Kevin Seiter, who also works in the media primarily as a television news/sports producer (yes, he is Kevin “The Bodyguard” as nicknamed by KRON TV’s Gary Radnich), we thought we’d do a look back at the last 32 years of Northern California prep football and choose which teams we think would have played in the NorCal Open Division bowl game. Thanks again, Kevin.

Remember, that only section champions are eligible for CIF bowl games so a team had to win a section championship to be retroactively chosen for this feature as well.

1980 Saratoga vs. Vintage (Napa)
Saratoga (13-0) was unbeaten and ranked No. 3 in AAAA by Cal-Hi Sports. Vintage (14-0) was unbeaten and ranked No. 4 in AAAA. These were two of the best teams coached by legendary Benny Pierce of the Falcons and Burl Autry of the Crushers.

1981 Bellarmine (San Jose) vs. Monte Vista (Danville)
The Bells (12-0) were the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year and should have been nationally ranked in the top 10. No other NorCal teams were ranked in the AAAA state pecking order, so into the fray comes AAA No. 1 Monte Vista. Despite a loss, the Mustangs (11-1) went on to win their first of three straight NCS 3A titles.

1982 St. Francis (Mountain View) vs. Tracy
St. Francis (14-0) finished No. 2 in the state, going unbeaten in the WCAL and giving Bellarmine its only loss before Seaside dropped the defending champion Bells in the CCS D-I semifinals. Tracy (12-1) upset undefeated Cordova 14-12 in the SJS Div. I championship for its first section crown under SJS Hall of Fame coach Wayne Schneider.

1983 St. Francis (Mountain View) vs. Christian Brothers (Sacramento)
Coach Ron Calcagno’s team (13-0) was the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year and was ranked as high as No. 12 in the country, outscoring an extremely tough field 103-10 in the CCS playoffs and finishing with three straight shutouts. Christian Brothers (13-1) was No. 5 in the state in AAAA by Cal-Hi Sports. The Falcons lost a regular season game to league foe Cordova, but beat the Lancers handily in the SJS playoffs before edging Vintage in overtime to take the title.

1984 St. Francis (Mountain View) vs. Skyline (Oakland)
St. Francis (10-2-1) won its third straight CCS D-I title, but this time as the underdog. Suffering two losses and a tie in the regular season, the Lancers faced a playoff field that included unbeaten league rival Bellarmine and unbeaten Oak Grove, which came into the playoffs ranked No. 1 in the state. The OAL would have finally made its first appearance in the regional bowl final with one of the many great teams Skyline had during the 80s and 90s under coach John Beam. One of Skyline’s wins in a 10-0 season was the only loss suffered by De La Salle of Concord.

Folsom QB Dano Graves looks for receivers during 2010 CIF Division II state bowl game against Serra of Gardena. If the current regional bowl games were in place that season, Graves and the Bulldogs probably would have played De La Salle one week earlier in the NorCal Open Division contest. Photo by Scott Kurtz.

Folsom QB Dano Graves looks for receivers during 2010 CIF Division II state bowl game against Serra of Gardena. If the current regional bowl games were in place that season, Graves and the Bulldogs probably would have played De La Salle one week earlier in the NorCal Open Division contest. Photo by Scott Kurtz.

1985 Cordova (Rancho Cordova) vs. De La Salle (Concord)
This game would have marked the end of one dynasty and the beginning of another. Cordova’s last great team was led by future Cal star Troy Taylor at QB and was the first team in SJS history to go 14- 0. Taylor is now the co-coach and offensive coordinator at Folsom, which is playing the Spartans in this year’s NorCal Open Division bowl game. De La Salle (12-0) would have slipped into this game after St. Francis was upset in the CCS D-I championship by Los Gatos, which finished No. 2 in the AAA state division behind DLS.

1986 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Vintage (Napa)
The Spartans (12-0) answered the critics loudly by storming through the NCS 3A playoffs almost as convincingly as they had previously in 2A, outscoring their opponents 104-20. The Spartans also defeated CCS D-I champion Bellarmine and finished ranked No. 2 in the state in the top division by Cal-Hi Sports. The next highest ranked NorCal team in AAAA was SJS champion Vintage (13-1), which blanked Christian Brothers 14-0 in the D-I section championship game.

1987 Monte Vista (Danville) vs. Tracy
Monte Vista (13-0) exacted revenge on De La Salle by beating the Spartans 14-13 in the NCS 3A championship after DLS was denied the winning two-point-conversion on a controversial “was he in or out” play in the final minute. The Mustangs also snapped the Spartans’ 44-game win streak three games short of the state record. Tracy (13-1) won the SJS D-I title 17-16
over Yuba City on a dramatic 4th down TD pass late in the game and finished ranked No. 6 in the state.

1988 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Skyline (Oakland)
De La Salle (13-0) returned to its old ways in completing an undefeated season with a 42-0 thrashing of Livermore Granada in the NCS 3A title game, finishing No. 2 in the final AAAA state rankings and as high as No. 10 in the nation. No other NorCal teams hit the final top 10 AAAA state rankings, but unbeaten Skyline finished 10-0, recapturing the OAL title after relinquishing it to McClymonds the year before, rekindling a run of seven section titles in eight seasons.

1989 Merced vs. St. Francis (Mountain View)
Merced finished 14-0 and was the SJS D-I champ, dramatically beating Nevada Union on a late field goal 31-29 in the title game. The Bears finished No. 3 in the state in AAAA while NU finished No. 5. De La Salle rolled to another NCS 3A title, but the Spartans lost to St. Francis 18-16 earlier in the season and thus would not have made it to the NorCal Open Division bowl game for this season.

1990 Merced vs. De La Salle (Concord)
In the midst of a 34-game winning streak, Merced repeated as SJS D-I champion and was named Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year. The Bears (14-0) were also ranked as a high as No. 5 nationally. De La Salle (13-0) was also undefeated and finished No. 4 in the AAAA state rankings. Bellarmine of San Jose (12-0) also was unbeaten, ended at No. 6 in the state and could have been the pick over the Spartans.

1991 Elk Grove vs. Pittsburg
Picking the NorCal regional participants would have become easier beginning in 1991 as this was the first season Cal-Hi Sports did an overall top 25 state ranking. Elk Grove (13-1) lost a game, but rallied to win the SJS D-I title and earn a No. 4 state ranking. Pittsburg’s 35-27 upset of DLS
in the NCS 3A title game earned the Pirates (11-1-1) a state ranking of 5th. Pittsburg lost to DLS 28-16 in the regular season before exacting revenge in the playoffs. That upset, of course, would take on more lore over the next 12 years as it was DLS’ last loss until 2004, a span of 151 games, which may have set an unbreakable national record.

1992 De La Salle (Concord) vs. St. Francis (Mountain View)
Beginning this season and continuing through 2003, the choice of DLS to have been in the NorCal bowl game would have been easy, especially considering their 151-game win streak and playing in the largest classification in the NCS. The Spartans (13-0) were the Cal-Hi
Sports State Team of the Year for the first time this season. St. Francis (13-0) would have beaten out two-loss Grant of Sacramento for the other
spot.

1993 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Nevada Union (Grass Valley)
This was the only year during the Spartans’ 151-game win streak that they were not Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year, but that probably had more to do with unbeaten Eisenhower’s 56-3 dismantling of state powerhouse Mater Dei in the Southern Section D-I title game. DLS was the only unbeaten large classification school in Northern California, finished No. 2 in the state and was ranked as high as No. 4 nationally. The second spot would have been a tough call between two once-beaten teams. Nevada Union (13-1) had possibly its best of a number of great teams in 1993. The Miners averaged 40 points per game out of their famed wing-T. Leland of San Jose (12-1) was the other team and yes the Chargers were led that season by the incomparable Pat Tillman.

1994 De La Salle (Concord) vs. St. Francis (Mountain View)
De La Salle (12-0) won its first mythical national title after this season, finishing No. 1 in the National Sports Service and in the Student Sports FAB 50. They were Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year and would continue to be through the 2003 season. St. Francis (13-0), which had elected to play in its enrollment division the season before in winning the CCS D-III title, moved back up to D-I and dominated, outscoring its playoff opponents 109-16 en route to an undefeated season and a No. 5 state ranking.

1995 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Jesuit (Carmichael)
This was a season when the second best team in the state, let alone Northern California, may have been De La Salle’s league rival, Pittsburg. The last team to beat the Spartans, the Pirates were ranked 12th in the country (by USA TODAY) and higher than DLS (which was higher by Cal-Hi Sports) when the two powerhouses met in a much-anticipated regular season game at Pitt. Jesuit finished ranked No. 14 in the state with a 13-0-1 record, winning a narrow 21-19 game over Golden Valley of Merced for the SJS D-I title.

1996 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Grant (Sacramento)
Unbeaten De La Salle (12-0) was once again the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year and ranked No. 2 nationally. The Spartans pitched seven shutouts in 12 games to win the first NCS 4A championship, as the section added another classification for its largest schools. Grant (12-2) lost two games early, but once QB Chad Elliott settled in after his controversial transfer from rival Nevada Union, the team was almost unstoppable.

1997 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Oak Grove (San Jose)
This could have been a year in which the Spartans (12-0) might have lost in a NorCal regional final. While they did break the national win streak record and rolled to another NCS title, it was a young team that was prone to mistakes. The rest of NorCal featured some very good teams, too. Oak Grove (13-0) was an unbeaten CCS champion; Elk Grove (13-1) had a loss but the Herd knocked off an unbeaten Grant of Sacramento team in the section playoffs and beat Atwater in the final; while Skyline of Oakland (12-0) may have had more talent than anyone (although the Titans played a schedule not as tough as Oak Grove or Elk Grove).

1998 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Elk Grove
This would have been possibly the easiest choice for two teams to play for a NorCal Open Division title since these were two of the best teams ever from the East Bay and Sacramento areas. The Spartans (12-0), which were free to schedule a five-game independent preseason for the first time, highlighted their unbeaten season by topping eventual CIF Southern Section champion Mater Dei 28-21 before nearly 20,000 at Anaheim Stadium. In the meantime, Elk Grove (14-0) had a less daunting road but was a wrecking machine from game one to game 14. The Thundering Herd rolled through the regular season, and in the playoffs belted an unbeaten Grant team that featured future NFL RB Onterrio Smith 38-8 and blasted another unbeaten Jesuit 41-7. But they saved the best for last, dismantling an Atwater team making their third straight appearance in the SJS D-I championship game, in record fashion, 77-22. Future NFL LB Lance Briggs rushed for six touchdowns in that game. Nationally, De La Salle No. 1 in the rankings while Elk Grove was No. 18. Wow.

1999 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Oak Grove (San Jose)
This year featured another of the best teams in DLS history with the best pair of linebackers perhaps in state history with D.J. Williams and Kevin Simon (a junior at the time) doing the dirty work. Trust us, if Simon hadn’t suffered a series of injuries beginning with a knee in a high school all-star game, he’d be starting in the NFL right now along with D.J. In all, the Spartans (12-0) took out three teams who finished ranked in the top 15 in the state by a combined score of 150-32. We think Oak Grove would have been the likely choice as the DLS opponent. The 12-1 Eagles outlasted San Benito, which had upset No. 1 seed St. Francis 28-20 to take the CCS D-I title and were the next highest-ranked NorCal team.

2000 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Lincoln (Stockton)
DLS finished again ranked No. 1 in the state, but was threatened a couple of times like the team hadn’t been since the streak began. The Spartans (13-0) opened the season with a close 30-24 win over Buchanan at home, then needed a missed field goal to avoid going to OT with Mater Dei. Lincoln (12-1-1) lost one and tied one, but bounced back to win the SJS D-I title, beating Elk Grove 35-28 in OT.

2001 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Elk Grove
This was another of the great DLS teams, which was highlighted by a 29-15 win against Long Beach Poly in the first game ever between teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country. Poly would go unbeaten otherwise, winning its third straight CIFSS D-I title while DLS (12-0) beat previously undefeated San Leandro 48-13 to win another NCS 4A championship. Elk Grove (14-0) was undefeated and overwhelmed Fairfield 34-12 in the SJS D- I title game.

2002 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Monte Vista (Danville)
DLS (13-0) continued its dominance after a bit of a slow start, going out of state for the first time to beat St. Louis in Hawaii, then dominating Long Beach Poly 28-7. Poly was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation again and had looked dominant up to that point, but was no match for the Spartans. In the NCS championship, the final game for DLS star Maurice Jones-Drew, the Spartans faced unbeaten San Leandro with its highly-regarded QB, Dennis Dixon (now in the NFL). The pick of the other team opposite the Spartans in a NorCal final would have been very hard. NCS 3A champ Monte Vista was unbeaten at 13-0, including one win over CCS finalist Bellarmine, and featured Kyle Wright, one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Jesuit of Carmichael also was unbeaten at 13-0.

2003 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills)
De La Salle upped its national-record win streak to 151 games behind possibly the best defense in school history (up until 2011 at least). The Spartans (13-0) shut out six opponents and gave up double digits only three times with the highest point total against them being 13 points. They also dismantled Louisiana 5A finalist Evangel Christian 27-10 in the first ever nationally televised high school game on ESPN. Given DLS’ easy 35-0 win over CCS D-I champ Palma, it looks like a Sac-Joaquin Section team would likely have gotten the other Open Division spot. In most years, that would be the D-I champion. Oak Ridge (12-1), however, beat Grant 24-6, finished as the No. 1 ranked team in the section and won a second straight SJS D-II title in dominant fashion.

2004 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Valley Christian (San Jose)
Valley Christian (12-1) won the first CCS Open title, beating a Palma team that tied DLS earlier that season along the way. The Warriors lost a close game to St. Francis in the regular season, but avenged it convincingly with a 21-0 shutout in the CCS semifinals. This was the year DLS started 1-3-1, with its national record 151-game winning streak snapped in a 39-20 loss to Bellevue, Washington. DLS continued its up-and-down season with a tie against unheralded Clayton Valley, but rallied to win the last six games, including an impressive 41-0 win over unbeaten Amador Valley to win another NCS 4A title and finish 8-3-2. Given their three losses and one tie, there would have been a lot of noise to place a team other than DLS as VC’s opponent in the NorCal bowl game. But the Spartans’ losses were to a national top 10 team in Bellevue, national No. 2 Mission Viejo and Central Section champion Clovis West, none of which fall within the boundaries of the CIF’s Northern Region. There was not a dominant SJS team, either, as D-I champion St. Mary’s of Stockton had a loss to a team not nearly as good as the three who beat DLS.

2005 Del Oro (Loomis) vs. Nevada Union (Grass Valley)
Well, we had to put at least one season in here in which we think De La Salle might not have been the pick for the NorCal Open Division. This one works because while the Spartans (11-2) did win another NCS title and were ranked higher than anyone else in the region by Cal-Hi Sports they were not as dominant in their last game (14-0 win against San Leandro) and they didn’t beat Palma of Salinas as easily as CCS champion Valley Christian did. Plus, under the new CIF bowl games format, there would have been a Division I game for the Spartans to play in. Valley Christian would not have been in front of Nevada Union (12-1) because its lone loss was to a Grant team that the Miners beat twice. And where does Del Oro come in? The Golden Eagles (13-0) were the No. 1 team in the Sacramento area during the season and completed an unbeaten season with an 18-15 victory in the DII section final over Rocklin.

2006 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Grant (Sacramento)
Things start to obviously become more simple for this task as the state bowl games began in 2006 and gives us at least one obvious choice in these looks back into the past. The first choice for this season would have been De La Salle (13-1), which returned to its dominant ways, including a home win over Mission Viejo. The opponent for DLS in the NorCal open division would have been an easy choice, too. Grant (13-0) rolled to the SJS D-I title unbeaten with one of the best teams the section had seen in years, possibly the best since Elk Grove of 1998.

2007 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Oak Grove (San Jose)
De La Salle’s 2007 team, like 2006, went unbeaten through the NCS playoffs, but this team was more dominant than the year before as it seemed the Spartans were determined to redeem themselves after the Division I state bowl game loss to Canyon from the year before. The Spartans (13-0) would eventually reverse their disappointment from the previous season, beating Corona Centennial 37-30 for the California D-I title. Oak Grove lost a game on its way to the CCS Open Division title, and the Eagles (12-1) would have had their work cut out for them against DLS as their best player, Kevin Gardiner, was injured in the CCS championship game and may not have been able to play. SJS D-I champ Napa also had one loss, but it was to SJS D-II champ Granite Bay and Granite Bay had two losses.

2008 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Grant (Sacramento)
With the addition of the CIF Open Division bowl game during this season, this selection for which teams would have played in a NorCal Open Division game becomes obvious. Grant (14-0), with wins over state champions from Idaho and Utah and an undefeated record, was granted the open division slot from the north over DLS (12-2), which had a close loss at home to Don Bosco Prep (N.J.). This also was a year, though, in which there was not much difference, if any, between the SoCal Open Division choice and the SoCal Division I selection. In fact, Corona Centennial, which topped DLS in the Division I game, was the State Team of the Year. Grant, meanwhile, showed it belonged with the elite teams of the state and nation with a solid win over Long Beach Poly. The Grant vs. De La Salle debate would have been even more complicated had Bellarmine of San Jose also finished unbeaten. The Bells (12-1) did win the CCS Open Division crown and had perhaps their best team ever, but they suffered a big upset to Serra of San Mateo in the regular season.

2009 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Rocklin
DLS lost two games, but both were to out of state teams, including national No. 1 ranked Don Bosco Prep of New Jersey. Evidence of the Spartans’ improvement by the end of the season was their 44-7 win over Monte Vista in the NCS playoffs. The Spartans beat MV only 28- 21 in their fifth game. The debate was on all season as to who was the top dog in NorCal, DLS or Grant. The Pacers, based off their California Open Division title from 2008 and their roster loaded with high-major D-I prospects, certainly had an excellent argument. The Pacers’ dream season was derailed, however, by also unbeaten Rocklin in the SJS D-II semifinals. The Thunder (14-1) went on to defeat Del Oro to take the SJS title, but lost star QB Jimmy Laughrea. Rocklin put up a valiant fight against Servite in the D2 bowl game before falling by a last second field goal. The Spartans (12-2), meanwhile, went up against L.A. City champion Crenshaw in the Open Division and pulled away in the second half for a 28-14 triumph.

2010 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Folsom
Like the year before, the debate between De La Salle and Grant raged on, but also like the year before Grant fell to the eventual SJS D-II champion in the playoffs. The Spartans (14-0) ended up being a pretty easy choice with their perfect record and 28-14 win over Nevada state champion Bishop Gorman. The close call would have been between Folsom, which was the team that beat Grant and avenged an earlier loss, and unbeaten Palo Alto. At the time, Folsom’s big win over Grant and the fact the Bulldogs (14-1), with record-breaking QB Dano Graves, were dominating every opponent probably would have gotten them the nod over the Vikings (14-0). All three teams won CIF state titles, the first time the North won more games than the South since the series began in 2006.

2011 De La Salle (Concord) vs. Bellarmine (San Jose)
This pick from last year would have been close opposite DLS. The Bells would have been serious contenders because their only loss after winning the CCS Open Division title was the one to DLS in the first game in two overtimes. Normally, you’d think the CIF wouldn’t want a rematch in a bowl game, but this time they probably would have. Del Oro of Loomis would have been strongly considered as well. Its only loss after winning the SJS title was in overtime to Westlake of Westlake Village. Since the Bells narrowly lost in their state bowl game to Santa Margarita while Del Oro had a tougher time with Helix of La Mesa, we’ll say that the Bells would have been selected for the NorCal Open Division.

Comments or corrections? Email markjtennis@gmail.com.