What We Learned: DLS-San Ramon

Going to a regular season finale at De La Salle in the era of the CIF North Coast Section Open Division brings out an altogether different vibe since what’s happening on the field in front of you is so closely-related to following the scores of other top teams in the section. On this night, as the state No. 5 Spartans were cruising past unbeaten San Ramon Valley of Danville, both Pittsburg and Freedom of Oakley were losing at the same time.

Don’t forget to look at this week’s State Top 25 Weekend Scoreboard.

Game Attended: San Ramon Valley of Danville (No. 13 in state) at De La Salle of Concord (No. 5.

How Did It End:Reserves were on the field with a running clock in the fourth quarter as the host Spartans posted a 49-14 victory. Both teams scored on their opening possessions, then after DLS scored on its second series junior Taveis Marshall picked off a pass and raced for a 28-yard touchdown for a 21-7 lead. Marshall had a 71-yard pick six later in the second quarter and after a 1-yard plunge by QB Andrew Jones it was 35-7 and the game effectively was over. Brenden Riso had De La Salle’s third interception return TD of the game in the second half. Defensive coordinator Terry Eidson said afterward he couldn’t remember another game in DLS history in which the defense scored three times. We can’t either.

De La Salle defensive guru Terry Eidson said that junior Taveis Marshall (above) “never ran that fast in his life” in describing the two interception return TDs he had on Friday night. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Big Picture: De La Salle wrapped up the top seed for the NCS Open Division, a new format that started last year. When the Spartans took down 9-0 Monte Vista of Danville last year, it was thought afterward that the margin also was going to knock out the Mustangs from the four-team Open Division bracket and that is what happened. This time, with a different set of teams, San Ramon Valley’s 9-1 regular season isn’t going to result in the same movement. And for much of the night as the Wolves were falling behind, both projected NCS Open teams Pittsburg and Freedom of Oakley were trailing in their games. Pitt ended up edging Antioch 14-12 and since Pirates’ only loss is to national power Corona Centennial they should move up to the No. 2 NCS Open spot. San Ramon probably falls to third because Freedom ended up losing 37-35 in its game to Liberty of Brentwood. While Liberty has a case to move up to the fourth spot, the NCS is probably going to move up Clayton Valley of Concord (8-2) into the fourth spot and then Liberty vs. Freedom becomes a possible rematch in the D1 section final. The NCS D1 champion, however, does not get to move on to the CIF bowl games.

De La Salle Breakdown: Both the players and coaches admitted that the team was motivated by only winning by one point over San Ramon Valley last year. It also generally gets harder and harder to beat DLS as the season gets to November and later. Whatever the reasons, both the offense and defense looked sharper and much more locked in than earlier this season when we saw the Spartans against St. Francis of Mountain View. There remain holes in the passing game and the offensive line lacks the power and size of the big three teams of SoCal (and probably Mission Viejo). The defense featured the return of 315-pound Tuli Letuligasenoa (USC recruit), who had been missing for more than a month with a knee injury. The most noticeable improvement was on the back end with juniors Taveis Marshall and Amir Wallace. It wasn’t just Marshall’s two interception return TDs. He and the other DBs were tight in coverage all night. DLS linebacker Henry To’oto’o continues to look like one of the top juniors in the state and he’s being used more as a running back on offense. He wasn’t in every play, but can get tough yards in third and short situations and that helps keep No. 1 running back Kairee Robinson more fresh.

San Ramon Valley Breakdown: Giving up three defensive touchdowns to the Spartans contributed to the lopsided score, but the defense didn’t give up any long runs to DLS running backs. In those situations, the Wolves’ defense was more than okay. They haven’t had receiver Rob Funkhouser nearly all season (knee) and there just isn’t much other high-end speed on offense to go with the footwork and passing of senior Clark Baker. Blake McDonald also still looks like a big-time OL recruit. We previously had only seen him at Nike camps. If there was a rematch later, it would likely take a defensive TD or two by San Ramon to have a chance.

De La Salle DB Taveis Marshall: “On the first (TD), it was third and long and we knew they like going to throw to the (first down) marker. I just saw it coming and jumped the route. On the second one, we always go for the catch on a ball like that and I got some great blocks. We just felt this was a statement game. Last year even though we won was not the outcome we wanted.”

De La Salle Head Coach Justin Alumbaugh: “Definitely on defense that was awesome. We felt good coming in because we had two weeks of the best practices we’ve had in years. Last year wasn’t something we were dwelling on, but a lot of the guys had a sour taste in their mouth and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t extra motivation there. I thought their defense was tough. A play here, a play there and without the defensive scores and you never know.”

Up Next: We’re posting this before the NCS pairings are announced, but we know that DLS will be the top seed for the Open Division and won’t play for two weeks until a first-round match-up with the No. 4 seed (likely Clayton Valley of Concord). San Ramon Valley was projected to get the No. 3 seed and therefor would take on projected No. 2 Pittsburg also in two weeks.

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