Could this season be like 2004 when California’s most historically great football program of the last 50 years actually had a 2-3-2 record after its first seven games? This Friday’s upcoming game vs. Cathedral Catholic of San Diego could provide the answer, but even if De La Salle of Concord were to wind up 2-4 after six games, the season wouldn’t be lost and a CIF state title could still be won. We go over some of the possibilities, recap the Spartans’ 318-game unbeaten streak vs. regional foes (not Northern California) and remind everyone of two amazing streaks they still have going.
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Before going into some of the variables regarding the impact of the 31-28 win last Friday by St. Francis of Mountain View over De La Salle of Concord, let’s give some credit to the winning team.
Three turnovers by the Spartans contributed to their defeat, but the clutch pass completions by junior QB Matt Dougherty and the powerful running of Viliami Teu (who rushed for 213 yards and one TD) plus the way that the St. Francis offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage were all big factors in the victory. The Lancers have no doubt enjoyed all of the new rankings this week, but we’re sure their coaches will be doing their best to get them to forget about De La Salle and focusing in on what should be a terrific West Catholic Athletic League race.
It wasn’t the first time that the Lancers beat the Spartans on their home field. They did it the first time 32 years ago. while we were not there last Friday, we were there in 1989. Head coach Ron Calcagno’s squad also won that night (score was 18-16) with opportunistic offense and stout defense. His son, Greg, was the head coach of the Lancers last Friday. At the time in 1989, De La Salle was still transitioning into a state large school super power but it had perhaps one of the best linemen in NorCal history — future NFL player Aaron Taylor.
Following two losses from the early portion of 1989 (the other was to El Cerrito), the Spartans fixed their issues and went on to win the CIF North Coast Section Class 3A (largest class) title. They repeated in 1990, also going unbeaten, and had a 34-game winning streak when they lost to Pittsburg, 35-27, in the 1991 NCS championship. If Pitt’s Percy McGee had not scored on a 79-yard interception return with 2:34 left, all of De La Salle’s streaks would be 35 games longer. That was their last loss to a team from the San Francisco Bay Area or CIF Sac-Joaquin Section until last Friday, a span of 318 games.
It wasn’t a winning streak, however, and it wasn’t a streak for Northern California. There were two ties in the 2004 season (to Palma of Salinas and Clayton Valley of Concord) and in 2004 and in 2005 the Spartans lost to Clovis West of Fresno. The city of Fresno clearly is Northern California and its high schools have always been Northern California by Cal-Hi Sports for 45 years. Most of the prominent prep writers in the region have also changed their references over the years as the streak was being considered “north of Fresno” or “regional” and not Northern California by many of them.
Before the Lancers came through on a 16-yard TD pass from Dougherty to Nico Andrighetto with just 16.7 seconds left in the contest (teammate Tim Natane also caught two TD passes on the night), reminders of some other close calls that the Spartans had during their 30-year streak no doubt flashed into the minds of many longtime DLS fans. There was one in 1993 vs. Pittsburg, then there was the Serra of San Mateo game from 2009 (a one-point win), a double-overtime thriller in 2011 vs. Bellarmine of San Jose (a Bells’ kicker missed a PAT in the first OT that would have won the game) and a league game in 2016 vs. San Ramon Valley of Danville in which a two-point play with three minutes left had to be stopped in 28-27 win.
WHAT DLS STREAKS ARE STILL GOING?
The most obvious one is that the Spartans still haven’t lost to a team from the NCS since 1991 and that they have won 29 consecutive section titles. That’s not like winning in a city section (there are three in California) and the NCS is the third largest in the state (behind Southern and Sac-Joaquin). The second-longest streak of winning consecutive section titles is far, far behind at 10 and one of those is from 1920 to 1929 at Bakersfield. The other is an ongoing streak of 10 at McClymonds of Oakland (which is essentially a one-league section). There were no section titles crowned anywhere in California during the 2020-21 school year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
It’s more complicated, but De La Salle also still has an ongoing state record for longest league unbeaten streak. The Spartans haven’t lost in a league game since 1989 (El Cerrito was in their league then). The complicated aspect of it is that DLS wasn’t officially in a league from 1998 to 2007 and from 2012 to 2017. In those years, there were league opponents played in a free-lance or independent schedule and the Spartans were just automatically qualified for the playoffs. We have the current league win streak at 102 games. Long Beach Poly is second all-time is that category at 80 games (1994 to 2008) while the second-longest active streak is at St. Mary’s of Stockton (66 in a row from 2006). Last spring, one of the longest in CIFSS history, a 57-game league win streak from 2005 to 2021, ended when Centennial of Corona was defeated by Norco, 36-32.
COULD 2004 BE REPLAYED AGAIN BY THE SPARTANS?
If one was looking at the De La Salle schedule at the start of the season, the three toughest games one would probably choose would be Sept. 17 at home vs. Cathedral Catholic of San Diego followed by October 1 at home vs. St. Frances Academy of Baltimore (Md.) and then Oct. 8 at Folsom. St. Francis of Mountain View wouldn’t have been on the list. No offense to the Lancers, but they did lose 49-7 to Serra (San Mateo) last April in that short spring season.
Now that DLS has lost to St. Francis, it’s a quick turnaround to Cathedral Catholic. That is a team we have seen that has an offense with great balance (QB Charlie Mirer & RB Lucky Sutton) and a dominant defensive line (led by Cal-bound Jaxson Moi). Jaxson had three sacks in the game we saw (50-17 win vs. Chaminade of West Hills at the Honor Bowl). The Dons then followed up that win by blanking Helix of La Mesa, 52-0. Helix came into that game at No. 5 in the San Diego Section and suffered its worst loss ever. The Cathedral Catholic team we saw is no question good enough to be able to beat some of these recent teams at De La Salle.
We haven’t covered national teams like St. Frances Academy since 2014, but we know that is a program that gets players from a wide area. The Panthers have a 38-23 loss this season, but that was to St. Thomas Aquinas of Florida, a nationally ranked team. St. Frances Academy is also the same team that lost 34-18 to Mater Dei (Santa Ana) in 2019 and figures to be a tough opponent for DLS.
That brings us to Folsom, which has gone 0-4 in games vs. the Spartans since 2012. The Bulldogs had their best chance to get a win against them in 2018 with numerous returning starters from their 2017 CIF D1-AA state title team, but fell 14-0 in Concord. It would appear they will now have another great shot with a lot of starters back from the previous season. Folsom didn’t play DLS in 2014 when it had probably the best team in SJS history, but both teams were undefeated state champions (in the Open Division and D1) and we’ll never know. The final 2014 rankings had to reflect that DLS handily beat Folsom in both 2012 and 2013 in the only two years that the CIF had NorCal and SoCal Open Division bowl games.
Some people will be shocked if DLS is sitting at 2-4 after the next three games. They shouldn’t. These next three teams on the schedule are all very, very good teams and we’d think most of the teams currently in the top 20 of the state would all go 0-3 against them.
In 2004, after the Spartans had their national record 151-game winning streak broken up in Seattle by Bellevue (Wash.), they lost again the very next week at home to Clovis West. A big matchup with Mission Viejo followed (top-ranked team in SoCal that season) and that was another loss, but the team played very well in a one-score defeat. The two ties to Palma and Clayton Valley came next until a 2-3-2 group started getting things more in line with normal and beat a Pittsburg team that was unbeaten and favored to push the Spartans to 2-4-2. De La Salle never lost again and won the NCS title with a convincing victory over Amador Valley of Pleasanton (which was unbeaten coming into that game). How that team came back from that adversity, and after suffering the shock of their all-state teammate from the previous year, Terrance Kelly, being murdered, was one of the highlights of legendary head coach Bob Ladoucuer’s career.
They say if teams are going to beat De La Salle (this doesn’t apply to the current teams at Mater Dei and St. John Bosco) that it has to be early in the season before everything starts to click into place on both sides of the ball. Once the NCS playoffs start, the games have tended to be over quickly. There’s no reason why this year’s team can’t do the same.
WHAT ABOUT THE CIF NORCAL OPEN DIVISION STATE CHAMPIONSHIP BERTH?
Since the CIF went to its current format of matching the top Southern California and Northern California teams in an Open Division without a preceding regional game in 2014, De La Salle has been in the game every year. In fact, the Spartans have been the highest placed NorCal team in the CIF state bowls for every year except one since the CIF modern state championships began in 2006 and it remains debatable to this day that they should have been in the Open in 2008 instead of Grant (Sacramento).
In none of those seasons, however, did DLS have a loss to another team from the same region. It’s also a loss that unlike one to another team from the NCS can’t be avenged later on. It will therefore take a number of scenarios to happen for the Spartans to come back from their loss to St. Francis in order to be selected as the NorCal Open Division team in 2021. This would include beating Folsom on Oct. 1, Folsom not losing again and winning the Sac-Joaquin Section title, DLS winning another NCS title, St. Francis not winning the CCS Open Division title and probably a team winning the CCS Open title with more than one loss. DLS also might need to beat either Cathedral Catholic or St. Frances Academy to have another quality win in addition to potentially having one against Folsom.
If all the top teams from the current state rankings were to win out, the closest decision for the NorCal Open Division berth would take place if Folsom beats De La Salle and wins the SJS D1 title while Serra of San Mateo or St. Francis (or potentially another team that is unbeaten) wins the CCS Open Division title. To us, Folsom has the edge because it has clearly been closer to actually being in the Open Division many more times than either Serra or St. Francis combined.
Another variable to consider is that the CIF can choose a CIF Central Section team for a NorCal placement. If there are no unbeaten teams at the end of the NCS, CCS Open or Sac-Joaquin D1 playoffs and for example Clovis is unbeaten, then that’s a team that could be chosen for the Open Division representing the north.
The more likely situation is that if there’s a top 10 state ranked team at the end of the Central Section D1 playoffs is that that team would be sent to the south for the D1-AA game opposite the San Diego Section Open Division winner. This year, remember, all eight of the top ranked teams in the CIFSS will be in its top division (D1) based on competitive equity rankings so only one of those teams (most likely Mater Dei or St. John Bosco) will be playing on afterward. That wasn’t the case previously. Teams from 2019 like Corona del Mar and Sierra Canyon would have been in that higher bracket and never would have played for state titles. Will the 9th best team in the CIFSS (after winning its D2 title) be on the same level as the No. 1 San Diego team or No. 1 Central Section team? Maybe, but if it’s a better matchup for those two to play each other and the CIFSS D2 champion to be in D1-A then that becomes a strong possibility and that Central Section team would also then no longer be in the north.
No one should be shocked if DLS does go 6-4 for the regular season and then comes back to win the NCS top divisional title. It’s basically happened before (2004). This time, however, there would still be a CIF state title (in either D1-A or D1-AA) that the Spartans could win and those state titles still go onto a school’s resume even if they aren’t in the Open Division.
Besides, being the NorCal team in the CIF Open Division is starting to feel like teams down south who might be the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the CIFSS D1 playoffs. No one really wants it. That means Mater Dei or St. John Bosco is on the other side and there’s just only a handful of teams in the entire nation even close to them.