One team is playing in its first CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championship game since the modern playoff format was introduced in 1976. The other team will gun for its seventh straight section crown.
Both will aim for victory Saturday when Patterson and Central Catholic battle for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship at University of the Pacific in Stockton.
As stoked as he is that his players are vying for their first section title, Patterson coach Rob Cozart believes it will take more than just adrenaline and an emotional high to overcome the vaunted Raiders.
“The biggest thing is that we don’t want to be happy just to be there at UOP,” he said. “Central is somebody we’ve already faced, so the fear factor is kind of gone with some of the younger guys. We have nothing to lose. For us being new at UOP, we’re just using that as our motivation.”
Central Catholic (10-1-1) has had Patterson’s number the past two seasons in the Western Athletic Conference. The Raiders beat Patterson 36-12 in 2006 and 35-10 in Week 8 this year.
Central’s two stars, Oregon State-bound lineman Dominic Galas and 1,000-yard rusher Louis Bland, saw limited playing time in the Raiders’ Oct. 26 match with Patterson. Both are healthy and should receive a good deal of time on the field, Central coach Mike Glines said.
Central (153) and Patterson (141) had nearly similar passing yardage when they played earlier this season, but Patterson struggled to establish its running game, with just 9 rushing yards.
The Raiders will likely turn to Bland (1,378 rushing yards, 30 touchdowns) and Max Nelson (1,006 yards, 15 TDs) for offense.
Central has split quarterbacking duties between David Halvorson (756 passing yards) and Patrick Trinkler (411 passing yards), who suited up against Patterson in Week 8 and in Friday’s 49-21 semifinal playoff win over Modesto Christian.
Alex Young, who has 25 catches, leads Central’s receiving corps, followed by James Orth with 17 catches.
When Patterson has the ball, its triple-threat option features Daniel Reza handing off to Keith Yamamoto off-tackle and up the middle, to Robby Samano on sweeps, or to fullback Gordy Inocencio for tough up-the-middle yards. Josh Ham and Imani Brown have also run the ball in recent weeks.
Yamamoto wore down Escalon in Friday’s 12-7 win, rushing for 99 yards on 22 carries. Reza had 72 rushing yards and was 6-of-10 passing for 84 yards.
Samano leads Patterson with 19 touchdowns and is the team’s featured punt returner. He splits kickoff return duties with Malik Okitukunda.
When Patterson needs yardage on third-and-long, Reza often turns to Samano and Ronyea Ellington for big plays or to receiver Johnny Garcia for shorter-range catches. Yamamoto is a favorite of Reza’s on flare and screen passes.
“We’ve got stuff in our game plan that we think will be to our advantage,” Cozart said. “We don’t have to worry about hiding anything. We’ll just focus on getting better, clean up mistakes we had last time, and put in some wrinkles.”
While Samano, a section track qualifier in the 200-meter dash, has torched opponents with his speed, Ellington’s height and jumping ability often lead to mismatches against shorter defensive backs.
“Patterson’s wide receivers can catch the ball, and they got good speed,” Glines said. “Patterson can spread you out and do that when Reza is hot.”
The Tigers are led up front by linemen Jorden Faatiga and Alfredo Serrano, who had two crucial sacks against Escalon. Yamamoto, a heavily recruited All-League linebacker, anchors the linebacker corps alongside Siaosi Tupouata and Danny Arriola.
Samano, Ham, Garcia and Brian Serpa make up a secondary that has given up just four passing touchdowns in 12 games. Only two of those touchdowns came against the starting secondary.
“Our defense is the backbone of our team,” Yamamoto said. “We got to win the turnover battle. Physically, we can beat Central. Mentally, we can’t have any mistakes, and we can’t have stupid penalties. We had a lot on Friday.
“When our defense is fresh, we can take Central’s offense. When we don’t have fresh (defenders), that’s what puts us in a bind.”
The Patterson defense has surrendered 14 points in two playoff games leading to Saturday’s final, including shutting out Escalon’s offense. Escalon scored only on a fumble return for a touchdown.
“After that game, it really gave new life to the program,” Cozart said. “It kind of gave the kids much more energy and re-energized them going into this week.”
Prospects for victory
Glines said he’ll focus on fundamentals and putting his defense in the right places.
“We’ll emphasize staying focused and on executing,” Glines said. “We got to get a body on a body and put a hat on a hat. I think we could play another three weeks. We definitely haven’t peaked yet. We’re getting better.”
A few bad snaps from center in certain formations changed the complexion of Patterson’s first game with Central. In the four games since then, the Tigers have executed the shotgun formation with relative ease.
“It was a thing where we went back and checked it all out,” Cozart said. “We figured out what was going on. It was technique and nerves and all that kind of stuff. We fixed all that. We want to make sure it’s done right.”
Cozart said he hasn’t pinpointed which players need to have standout games for the cause of victory. However, he said the defense must have a spirited effort to stop Central’s Bland and Nelson.
“Defensively for us, our front seven has to be big-time run defenders,” Cozart said. “Our over-the-top guys have to get their reads right. It’s got to be everybody on their A-game.”
To reach Play Editor Mike Vanden Bosch at the Irrigator, call 892-6187 or e-mail him at email@example.com