Friday Night Lights will be bright on Aug. 23 at the biggest high school football game in America when Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas visits De La Salle in a nationally-televised game on ESPN. The Spartans were recently named the most dominate team in prep football over the past decade and the Raiders from Ft. Lauderdale were No. 9 in the USA.
Aquinas is ranked No. 10 and DLS 18th in pre-season national rankings for 2019. The game was picked as the 8th most anticipated of the season. The schools met in 2011 with the Florida powerhouse beating the visiting Spartans 30-6 as defensive standout Joey Bosa (third draft pick in the 2016 NFL draft out of Ohio State and brother of new 49er Nick Bosa) led the Raiders defense that stifled a DLS team which went on to win the California State championship and finish third in final national rankings.
This glamourous showdown in Concord is one of five games for local schools on the Aug. 23-24 weekend. Both Clayton Valley Charter and Ygnacio Valley begin their seasons a week later on Aug. 30.
With the new format for the North Coast Section playoffs, pre-season games play a large role for every team setting its sights on a post-season berth. The major reconfiguration of the NCS playoff format now has seven football divisions with a maximum of eight teams making the playoffs in each.
DLS is the only local team in Division I while Clayton Valley Charter is the sole area team in D-II. The two Concord schools will play one another Nov. 1 in the final regular-season game for each after CVCHS was moved to the East Bay Athletic League after winning seven successive championships in the Diablo Valley and Diablo athletic leagues.
Clayton Valley Charter ruled NCS DII in three of coach Tim Murphy’s first four seasons from 2012-15 and went to State Bowl Games in 2014 and 2015. After that dominance the Ugly Eagles were moved to the new Open Division for the past three seasons and each time made the four-team bracket among the best teams in the Section.
Each of those years CVCHS was eliminated in the Open semi-finals (twice by De La Salle and once by Liberty). The teams that defeated them went on to a state Bowl Game. Returning to Division II this fall, the Ugly Eagles figure to be among the favorites should they make it to the playoffs.
They will only have nine games during the regular season after having a couple potential non-league games fall through. Their season starts Aug. 30 when Turlock visits Gonsalves Stadium in Concord. A week later they have a rematch of the 2018 Open Division playoffs against defending State Division 1A champions Liberty of Brentwood and their Oregon-bound quarterback Jay Butterfield in the Honor Bowl at James Logan High in Union City.
Of course, DLS has won 27 Section titles in a row and has failed to win NCS only twice since 1984. Coach Justin Alumbaugh’s Spartans have another ambitious non-league schedule that also includes road games against Central Catholic (Modesto), Folsom and St. Mary’s (Stockton) plus home games vs. St. Francis (Mountain View) and Buchanan (Clovis).
Last year’s team, which was perhaps a fluke injury to star Henry To’oto’o on the eve of the State championship game away from another undefeated season, was led by its dominating defense. This year junior quarterback Dorian Hale is bigger and more experienced and has several weapons to call on with running back Shamar Garrett and receivers Grant Daley and Lu Magia Hearns as the Spartans figure to need more offense after suffering numerous graduation losses on the defensive side of the ball.
Concord, which won NCS Division II in 2010 and was runner-up three times from 2011-2015, has been moved to Division IV along with Mt. Diablo. The Minutemen of coach Paul Reynaud kickoff their season in San Ramon at Dougherty Valley next Friday.
Second-year coach Donald James is hoping to have a larger roster this fall for his Red Devils, who travel to Crockett for their first game against John Swett next Friday.
Ygnacio Valley has been placed in Division VI and coach Bryan Shaw, also in his second year at his alma mater YVHS, has his Warriors hosting Swett on Aug. 30 in their first game.
Northgate is now in Division III and coach Ben Ballard’s Broncos begin play at Hercules next Friday.
Berean Christian has the area’s only new head coach. The Eagles (in the smallest Division VII) host Skyline of Oakland next Saturday, Aug. 24, in the debut for coach Tim Schultz, who has experience coaching at Las Lomas and Miramonte. Former coach James Hodgins took the head job at Berkeley High after six years at the Walnut Creek parochial school.
League games in the EBAL run from Oct. 4-Nov. 1. DLS and Clayton Valley Charter are in the Mountain Division. In the Diablo Athletic League, Concord, Mt. Diablo, Berean, Ygnacio Valley and Northgate are joined by College Park and Benicia in the Valley Division with games from Sept. 20-Nov. 1.
The North Coast Section football playoffs begin Nov. 8-9 and conclude Nov. 22-23 with the State Regional Bowl Games Dec. 6-7 and the finals Dec. 13-14.
Area schools non-league schedules
Berean Christian (Division 7)- 8/24 Skyline (Oakland), 8/31 at Salesian (Richmond), 9/7 at El Molino (Forestville).
Clayton Valley Charter (Div. 2)- 8/30 Turlock, 9/7 Liberty (Honor Bowl @ James Logan), 9/20 at Canyon Springs (North Las Vegas), 9/27 at Berkeley.
Concord (Div. 4)- 8/23 at Dougherty Valley (San Ramon), 8/30 Arroyo (San Lorenzo), 9/13 at Rodriguez (Fairfield), 10/25 at Alhambra.
De La Salle (Div. 1)- 8/23 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, FL), 8/30 at Central Catholic (Modesto), 9/6 St. Francis (Mountain View), 9/13 at Folsom, 9/20 Buchanan (Clovis), 9/27 at St. Mary’s (Stockton).
Mt. Diablo (Div. 4)- 8/23 at John Swett (Crockett), Elsie Allen (Santa Rosa), 9/6 at Harbor (Santa Cruz), at American (Fremont).
Northgate (Div. 3)- 8/23 at Hercules, 8/30 Alhambra, 9/6 at Hug (Reno), 11/1 Las Lomas.
Ygnacio Valley (Div. 6)- 8/30 John Swett (Crockett), 9/6 at Brookside Christian (Stockton), 9/14 at Galileo (San Francisco), 9/20 San Lorenzo.