Spartans had some of their starters out just after halftime with 35-0 lead over Pittsburg and went on to beat the Pirates 49-7 in the CIF North Coast Section D1 championship. Read on for all of the streaks they’ve kept going, but will they have enough to be a serious challenge for either Mater Dei or St. John Bosco in the CIF Open Division state final in two weeks?
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If the CIF state football championships were like the NCAA basketball tournament and was known as the Big Dance, the De La Salle of Concord football team would be hard to describe as a Cinderella looking for some magical moments to pull off an upset.
The Spartans, after all, have won more CIF state football titles than any other school by a wide margin and they stamped their ticket for the CIF’s football version of the Big Dance on Friday night at Dublin High with a 49-7 victory against Pittsburg in the CIF North Coast Section Division I championship.
It’ll be the 14th straight appearance for De La Salle in the CIF state championships, the last 11 in the Open Division. That streak would actually be double that if the current CIF format were played out covering the 14 years before the event was re-started in 2007 since they have now won 28 section titles in a row. The only season of the 28 that they probably wouldn’t have been in the Open Division was 2004 when they had three regular season losses, including one to Clovis West of Fresno (which would have been in the Open Division that year from the north). They also weren’t actually chosen for the first CIF Open Division game in 2008 when the CIF chose Grant of Sacramento instead of them. In that year, DLS lost to Centennial of Corona in the D1 state final.
Still, even though the Spartans have won seven CIF state titles and once won four in a row from 2009 to 2012, they’ve had much difficulty in the Open Division finals since both Mater Dei of Santa Ana and St. John Bosco of Bellflower started building super teams (almost similar to a prep school academy model) in the last four or five years. They’ve lost in the last three Open Division finals (56-33 to Bosco in 2016, 52-21 to Mater Dei in 2017 and 35-21 to Mater Dei last season) and although they’re much more explosive offensively than last year and have a talented quarterback running their system for a second year (always good for what they do) in junior Dorian Hale, they know that they’ll be a big underdog again when they play either MD or Bosco in two weeks in this year’s Open Division final. Those two had still not played each other yet in the CIF Southern Section Division I championship when this article was written.
“There’s only so much you can do to prepare for them (Mater Dei or Bosco) ahead of time,” said De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh, who took over the program in 2013 from the legendary Bob Ladouceur. “If you overlook what’s in front of you, then the practices can suck. We’re still trying to get better. We know in the long view what we’re up against. We know what it will take. That’s why we’ve been throwing the ball more and making sure we’re as dynamic as we can be.”
De La Salle scored on its first series against Pitt with Shamar Garrett going the last 30 yards on a run through the middle of the line. The Pitt defense forced a punt on the second series, but on the first play after that a big hit on Pirates’ running back Avant Muldrew caused a fumble that De La Salle’s Jason Tofaeono recovered on the 12-yard line. Garrett punched it in for a 3-yard touchdown two plays later and it was 14-0.
Early in the second quarter, Alumbaugh looked content sending out the field goal team on a fourth and five from the Pirates’ 14-yard line. After a time out, though, he sent the offense back on the field and the first down was picked up on a 8-yard scamper by James Coby. Hale then scored on a 2-yard run.
The Spartans broke it open in the final 2:34 of the first half when Hale slipped a short pass into the flat that junior speedster LuMagia Hearns took the distance for a 61-yard touchdown. Hearns then struck again two plays into Pitt’s ensuing series when he grabbed an interception and raced it back for a 60-yard score.
“It’s always fun winning these games and titles,” Hearns said. “We watch the scout team play all the time in practice and then it’s great to see them score at the end.
“If we’re in the game down south, we can beat whichever team we play. We just have to play a mistake-free game and capitalize every time we can when they do.”
Unlike two of the last four teams that the Spartans have faced in the NCS D1 final that were unbeaten entering the game — Freedom of Oakley in 2016 and Liberty of Brentwood last season — the Pirates already had a loss this season to Serra of San Mateo in a game that wasn’t close. The team did have two close wins over Liberty to get into the section final and had some big chunk plays against the De La Salle defense when quarterback Jerry Johnson (225 yards passing) could get the ball to either Brian Andre Pierce or Johnny Blackmon. The Pirates had one drive start at their own 20 and get to the DLS 12. The only score came on a 25-yard pass from Johnson to Pierce in the third quarter.
“We’re the public school champions this year,” Pitt coach Vic Galli told the Alameda Newspaper Group. “Proud of the seniors. They fought hard, and we have a good group coming back. The cupboards are full. We went undefeated in league. Looking forward to getting back to work after the holidays.”
“It’s always good to play Pitt with the athletes they have,” Alumbaugh said. “But it was nice to see the speed advantage that we had. Our offense and defense has been doing it all year. If we practice well and play well, we can compete with anybody.”
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