A 45-17 victory over Monte Vista of Danville (which was 9-0) shows that underclass-oriented Spartans are beginning to hit their stride as regular season ends. To win 26th straight North Coast Section title, however, it will have to be in new Open Division, which will leave out one team that won’t be happy when it’s announced on Sunday.
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They didn’t exactly come back from the dead, but the De La Salle Spartans seem to be on their way back this season toward the super elite level that California followers have become all too familiar with over the last 30 years.
One thing is for certain and that’s that the coaching staff headed up by Justin Alumbaugh (in his fourth season) and including Bob Ladoucuer (state’s winningest all-time coach) and Terry Eidson (state’s best defensive coordinator probably ever) know how to prepare a team for that level by the end of the season.
Alumbaugh was pleased with this team’s progress after a 45-17 win over previously unbeaten Monte Vista of Danville in a Friday matchup in Concord between two teams that were both state-ranked. But he knows that it’s still a big leap forward to get to the level of the CIF State Open Division title teams from 2014 and 2015 and to the level of where teams like Mater Dei (Santa Ana), Centennial (Corona), St. John Bosco (Bellflower) and Mission Viejo are right now.
“I really liked our physicality and how we responded in the second half,” Alumbaugh said. “That’s a good team we played and this shows we’re going in the right direction.”
Monte Vista, which was No. 10 in this week’s State Top 25, boasts a lineup with Washington-bound quarterback Jake Haener, USC-bound tight end Erik Krommenhoek and Colorado-bound fullback/linebacker Nate Landman. It definitely looked like the Mustangs had all the ingredients to end De La Salle’s 278-game unbeaten streak against California teams north of Fresno and its regular season win streak against California teams that dates back to 2005.
The state No. 8 Spartans, whose only loss was by two points to East of Salt Lake City (Utah) but also had to sweat out one-point wins against Servite of Anaheim and San Ramon Valley of Danville, put great pressure on Haener and his passing attack. Haener was sacked seven times and consistently avoiding pass rushers.
Still, the Mustangs put a scare into the Spartans in the second half after seemingly being out of it.
After De La Salle scored in the third quarter and then recovered a pooch-style onside kick, the Spartans were leading 31-10 and found themselves inside the Monte Vista five-yard line. On a fourth down play from the 1-yard line, however, Landman stuffed quarterback Abel Ordaz to prevent the Mustangs from being down 38-10.
Then a few plays after that, Haener slipped a pass to senior Isaiah Randle, who bounced off of two De La Salle defenders and broke loose for an 89-yard touchdown.
The Monte Vista defense then got another fourth-down stop and early in the fourth quarter the offense had a chance to cut the lead to 31-24.
This was when the momentum shifted back to De La Salle for good. It began with a fourth-down sack of Haener by 6-foot, 275-pound sophomore Beaux Tagaloa. After getting the ball back, the Spartans ripped off 68 yards on three running plays with Ordaz getting the TD on a 16-yard run. Ordaz had scored earlier on a 37-yard run.
De La Salle added another TD with 5:50 left on a 25-yard run by Kairee Robinson to account for the final score.
“We were just more dialed in tonight compared to where we were last month,” said Robinson, who finished with 265 yards on 23 carries and also scored on a runs of 8, 43 and 78 yards. “Sure, we know we have a lot of work to do. We’ve got to keep practicing better and not be satisfied.”
Three of De La Salle’s seven sacks were by 6-foot-2, 300-pound junior Tuli Letuligasenoa. With him and Tagaloa both up front, that’s a defensive tackle combo that will be tough for anyone to deal with.
The margin of defeat by Monte Vista also was such that the Mustangs now look like they could be the odd team out in a five-team battle for four berths in the new CIF North Coast Section Open Division playoffs.
De La Salle essentially locked up the top seed with its win and unbeaten Freedom of Oakley also did the same with the second seed when it beat Liberty of Brentwood 47-7.
Pittsburg, which has been as high as No. 13 in the state, lost to Freedom by only 41-38 last week in an instant classic and on Saturday walloped an Antioch team 61-35 that earlier this season only lost to De La Salle 28-21.
Clayton Valley of Concord, which has been in CIF state bowl game finals the last two years, won its league title on Friday by beating Campolindo of Moraga 50-15. The Ugly Eagles’ only loss is to Helix of La Mesa, a SoCal D1-AA bowl game participant from last year and currently No. 17 in the state.
While Monte Vista or Clayton Valley seem to be the team going into the NCS D1 bracket instead of the Open Division, all Alumbaugh and the Spartans know is that they’ll be off next week and then will play a state-ranked team in two weeks.
“There is a little more intrigue with this than in other years,” he said. “I’m glad I’m not on that committee. The problem is that you can’t just hone in on the scores and it’s impossible to see everyone play. This game tonight was much tighter than the final score.
“I know our athletic director (Leo Lopoz) would have liked it to have been eight teams instead of four.”