STOCKTON — The St. Mary’s High football team isn’t exactly used to not playing in the opening round of the playoffs. Admittedly, according to Rams head coach Tony Franks, it was a bit weird.
What it did provide, however, was a chance for St. Mary’s to take a week to heal and prepare as it gears up for a rematch with the Huskies.
The No. 4 Rams host No. 5 Sacramento-Sheldon at 7 p.m. tonight in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I quarterfinal game.
Coincidentally, these teams played in last year’s Division I quarterfinals, with St. Mary’s holding on for a 31-28 win. Of course, the composition of each squad has changed notably, with a few outliers.
The Huskies still have workhorse running back Tyrell Smith, who’s racked up 1,561 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. They’re a run-oriented team like the Rams, but different in the fact that they don’t necessarily try to trick opposing defenses, Franks said. Packages built with fullbacks and tight ends, positions the Rams don’t use, clear the way for Smith and company.
St. Mary’s, meanwhile, has a number of different looks it can employ. There’s the bruising combo of Tyrei Washington (624 rushing yards) and Taj Morris (512), or the legs of sophomore quarterback Michael Chavez out of the wildcat formation.
There’s also senior Will Brown, a speedy chance-of-pace running back who’s compiled 635 yards and nine touchdowns after missing the first few weeks of the season with an injury. Brown said it was heartbreaking missing the time that he did, but credits the training staff with helping him get back on the field.
Since he’s been there, Brown has given the Rams their backfield trifecta.
“We’re three different types of running backs,” Brown said. “They don’t know what to expect with that.”
Brown said the Rams know Sheldon won’t fall easily. It’s going to take a physical, mistake-free effort to get the upper hand. And points — lots of points.
“We have to put points on the board,” Brown said. “On offense, we have to be able to thrown and run the ball, and we have to capitalize on mistakes on defense.”
No. 8 Edison (9-2) at No. 1 Folsom (9-1), 7 p.m.: The reward for Edison’s first playoff win in 15 years, in its first home playoff game in the same amount of time, is a trek north to take on top-seeded Folsom.
This is a Folsom group, it should be noted, that won last season’s section title and went on to win the Division I-AA state championship. Its quarterback, recent Boise State commit Kaiden Bennett, has thrown for 2,871 yards and 44 touchdowns this season.
“We have to focus up and keep our heads in the game,” said Edison senior linebacker Nate Banks Roberts. “We have to do our assignments, and do them right. That’s basically it.”
No. 8 Tracy (8-3) at No. 1 Del Oro (9-1), 7 p.m.: The Vikings aren’t the only team playing the role of David vs. a Goliath. Fresh off a win over Lincoln-Lincoln, Tracy heads to Loomis tonight to try and knock off the top-seeded Golden Eagles.
Bulldogs head coach Matt Shrout said this week’s practice hasn’t been any different, outside of trying to keep the mood somewhat light to prevent the players from getting overserious. It’s still a game, he said, and the Bulldogs have to take the field and play it.
“We have some playmakers on offense, and our defense has been playing really well lately,” Shrout said. “If we play good defense, we’re going to be in it.”
No. 5 Manteca (8-3) at No. 4 Antelope (6-4), 7 p.m.: The Buffaloes took care of business at home last week against No. 12 Burbank, but face a tougher road as they travel north to play Antelope.
It helps that Manteca’s junior running back, Trabron Russell, is coming off a 21-carry, 227-yard performance complete with three touchdowns last week. For the Buffaloes to beat Antelope, they may need another strong night out of the backfield from Russell.
No. 7 Mountain House (10-1) at No. 2 Ripon (9-1), 7 p.m.: The Mustangs won last week in the first playoff game in program history, and have a staggering defense led by Troy Clegg’s 164 tackles and Keenami Maggard’s 19 sacks.
The problem is, they’re running into a Ripon team that’s not only coming off a bye, but has the same strengths. Gregory Clark made 106 tackles in the regular season, and Grant Wiebe put together 7.5 sacks.
No. 12 Waterford (7-4) at No. 4 Ripon Christian (10-0), 7 p.m.: Waterford has already pulled off one upset, beating No. 5 Rio Vista to make the quarterfinals. Ripon Christian, though, is an undefeated team that’s won games by an average of 37.7 points this season.
No. 6 Calaveras (7-4) at No. 3 Escalon (8-2), 7 p.m.: The Cougars, coming off an opening-round bye, will host a Calaveras team that slammed Highlands 44-7 last week.
No. 10 Amador (8-3) at No. 2 Hilmar (8-2), 7 p.m.: The Buffaloes have one upset under their belts, with their win over No. 7 Hughson last week. Hilmar will be a tougher task, having won four of its last five.