The defending CIF Open Division state champion Spartans, who it’s no secret will be the No. 1 team in the Cal-Hi Sports preseason state rankings, are facing Texas powerhouse Trinity High of Euless, Texas, on August 28 in a nationally televised matchup. It’s the biggest California vs. Texas game ever, but is it the most anticipated showdown coming into a season that they’ve ever been in?
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After winning last year’s CIF Open Division title with a 63-42 victory over Centennial of Corona and with a starting lineup of primarily juniors, the question about this year’s football team at De La Salle of Concord wasn’t whether it would start out No. 1 in California or even No. 1 in the nation but whether it might be one of the best or the best in the legendary program’s history.
To answer that question, to give the Spartans more legitimacy as a mythical national title contender and to provide the players with an opportunity to play a nationally ranked opponent on national TV, a game was scheduled to kick off the 2015 season against Trinity High of Euless, Texas on Friday, August 28 at Newsom Stadium in Mansfield (just outside Dallas).
ESPN is televising the matchup as part of its High School Football Showcase and has been well-known over the years to over-hype its high school matchups and manipulate its team rankings in trying to boost viewership and collect advertisers. We don’t know if DLS vs. Trinity will get the good ‘ol No. 1 vs. No. 2 designation, but it wouldn’t be a surprise.
Still, it’s going to be a huge game for the Spartans and for California’s national reputation. De La Salle’s losses to Don Bosco of Ramsey, N.J., in 2008 and 2009 and to St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2011 (not to mention a loss to Lakeland of Florida in 2009) have shown to some national pollsters that for the program to really get back to the No. 1 level it was at during the height of the national record 151-game win streak (which ended in 2004) that it needs to win a big game against a top team from either Texas or Florida.
Trinity also would certainly qualify as a top team. The Trojans have won three Class 5A state titles in their history and return a bevy of D1 college recruits after last year’s team went 12-2.
Any list of the of the most anticipated preseason matchups in De La Salle history has to begin with the prerequisite of that game being scheduled during the streak or after the streak. During the streak, of course, it created more anticipation, more significance. Also keep in mind that the buildup for some games, such as CIF state bowl matchups, takes place as a season unfolds. This list is for the anticipation of a matchup prior to a season beginning.
1. De La Salle vs. Long Beach Poly (2001)
Over the past 30-plus years, many longtime Southern California observers will tell you that the Jackrabbits of this season were the most physically impressive team they’ve ever seen (the 2013 team at St. John Bosco of Bellflower was close). It was a team that had four future NFL players on the roster plus many others that played at major colleges.
Poly had won the CIF Southern Section title the year before, but it was a group dominated by players who were coming back. De La Salle’s winning streak at the time was sitting at 112 games at the start of the season and while the Spartans had already played Mater Dei of Santa Ana three times by then, they hadn’t yet faced Poly, which is known for having more NFL players than any other school in the U.S.
Despite the DLS streak, there were some national pollsters (including USA Today) that indicated early on that they were going to rank the Jackrabbits No. 1 to start the 2001 season. In the Student Sports/FAB 50, it was De La Salle No. 1 and Long Beach Poly No. 2.
Several weeks before the game, America was brought to its knees by the events of September 11. Still, since many knew how strong Poly was going to be, the anticipation for the 2001 game can’t be beat. It was the first documented No. 1 vs. No. 2 game in U.S. prep football history and it was a meeting, dubbed “The Streak vs. The Beach,” that generated 120 credential requests, including one from the New York Times.
Result: De La Salle 29, Long Beach Poly 15. Before the game, no one knew the name of junior running back Maurice Drew. After he scored four times, everyone did. Poly went on to finish 13-1 and won the CIFSS title.
2. De La Salle vs. Mater Dei-Santa Ana (1998)
This was the game in DLS history that arguably could be No. 1 for this list right alongside DLS-Poly for 2001. Until 1998, remember, the Spartans had not played any prominent teams from the CIF Southern Section’s top division and Mater Dei at the time was the program to beat. This also was the team that in 1994 and in 1996 that USA Today ranked as No. 1 in the nation although Cal-Hi Sports for both years chose De La Salle.
Message boards on internet sites hadn’t yet begun, but there were many comments in the press that De La Salle was going to be in over its head to play this game. It was easily at the time the biggest and most anticipated NorCal vs. SoCal matchup in California history.
Result: De La Salle 28, Mater Dei 21. Just before halftime when the Spartans had built a 21-7 lead, DLS alum Brent Barry of the L.A. Clippers at the time (standing on the sidelines), yelled out: “We belong. We belong out there.”
3. De La Salle vs. Trinity, Euless, Texas (2015)
At the time of many of De La Salle’s biggest games during the streak, many prominent websites of today (such as MaxPreps) did not yet exist. With so many sites today and with the evolution of social media, the buildup for this year’s game against this Texas powerhouse is going to be intense. The saying “Don’t Mess With Texas” probably came from high school football there.
The pregame chatter, especially among Texans, is going to be fierce. It will rival the Miami Northwestern trip to the Lone Star State in 2007 to play Southlake Carroll in another No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown. The Floridians won 29-21 and snapped Carroll’s 49-game win streak. Combined with Florida’s 2-0 record against De La Salle, it’s easy to see why some would rank Florida as the best state for prep football in the land.
4. De La Salle vs. St. Louis, Honolulu, Hawaii (2002)
This was the Spartans’ first trip outside of the state to play a highly ranked opponent. St. Louis, which at the time was regarded as having one of the top programs in the nation, also entered the matchup with an 11-2-1 record against California teams, including a win in 1991 over Bakersfield that snapped Bakersfield’s 39-game win streak. Quotes from the governor of the state greeted those who traveled from the mainland prior to the Sept. 21 game and a pre-game rally at St. Louis was the lead story on local television.
Result: De La Salle 31, St. Louis 21. The streak rolled on to 117 and counting. Running back Maurice Drew had another big outing for the Spartans.
5. De La Salle vs. Evangel Christian, Shreveport, La. (2003)
If hot national recruit John David Booty (a quarterback) had not transferred out of Evangel Christian during the previous summer, this game would have rivaled DLS vs. Long Beach Poly. Evangel at the time was a well-known national power and was No. 1 in some national rankings in 1999. Adding big interest in the matchup, which was played at Diablo Valley College, is that it was the first-ever high school football game broadcast on ESPN. It’s common knowledge in ESPN circles that if the Spartans (who started the season with a 139-game win streak) had not agreed, then no high school football contests were going to get on air and may not have ever gotten on air.
Result: De La Salle 27, Evangel Christian 10. With 1:38 left in the game, the Spartans were on the Evangel 1-yard line and kneeled three straight times to kill the clock. All of America thus saw the integrity of the coaching staff and program and began to get a glimpse into what playing there is all about.
6. De La Salle vs. Long Beach Poly (2002)
Since the 2001 game between these two schools went so well and because the Jackrabbits did not lose for the rest of the season, the rematch for 2002 was hugely anticipated as well. De La Salle’s streak was at 125 when the season began. The 2002 game between the Spartans and Jackrabbits also ranks high on this list because both teams had to survive earlier tests in a major doubleheader in Hawaii.
Result: De La Salle 28, Long Beach Poly 7. The late Terrance Kelly scored in this game for the Spartans on one of three TD passes thrown by quarterback Britt Cecil.
7. De La Salle vs. St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (2011)
If there’s an equivalent of DLS in Florida, it’s the Raiders. And coming into the 2011 season, the Spartans were a two-time defending CIF Open Division state champion while St. Thomas Aquinas was still happy about being mythical national champions both in 2008 and 2010. The game also matched all-time coaching greats from the two states – Bob Ladoucuer of De La Salle and George Smith of St. Thomas.
Result: St. Thomas Aquinas 30, De La Salle 6. Turnovers doomed the Spartans, who did come back to win a third straight CIF Open Division state crown.
8. De La Salle vs. Mission Viejo (2004)
By the time the Spartans eventually played the Diablos, they had already lost twice and the win streak was over. Heading into the season, however, the streak was still going strong and Mission Viejo was viewed as a huge challenge, especially with future NFL quarterback Mark Sanchez returning. Ironically, Bellevue (Wash.) was viewed as a legit opponent, but not like Mission Viejo. This was because while Bellevue had won state titles, it was not in the state’s top division. Since ending the streak, Bellevue has become much more well-known nationally.
Result: Mission Viejo 19, De La Salle 17. It was a great showing for the Spartans under the circumstances since they had a chance to steal a win at the end on a long field goal attempt. Mission Viejo went on to go unbeaten and became the first State Team of the Year that wasn’t De La Salle since 1994.
9. De La Salle vs. Don Bosco-Ramsey, N.J. (2008)
This matchup came after the Spartans had an unbeaten 2007 season and won their first CIF state title. The Ironmen were a nationally ranked opponent who were even better in 2009 when they beat DLS in a rematch played in New Jersey.
Result: Don Bosco 23, De La Salle 21. The Spartans blew a 21-7 halftime lead mostly due to turnovers. Still, it took Patrick Murray to connect on a 19-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to win it for the visitors.
10. De La Salle vs. Bishop Gorman, Las Vegas, Nev. (2010)
The visiting Gaels wanted this game desperately since they were building a big-time program at the time and head coach Tony Sanchez used to give the Spartans some tough matchups when he was at California-San Ramon.
Result: De La Salle 28, Bishop Gorman 14. The score was not indicative of Bishop Gorman’s ability to move the chains and the Spartans didn’t put it away until a TD with 1:30 left.