If the Calaveras High School football team felt they had something to prove after receiving the No. 6 seed in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs, they made their point.
Calaveras, who split the Mother Lode League championship with Amador and Sonora, was the only one of those three teams who didn’t get a first-round bye. After finishing the regular season with an overall record of 7-3 and as co-champions, Calaveras felt slighted.
So, to make a statement, Calaveras put up 530 yards of total offense and scored touchdowns of 38, 10, 80, 31, 68, 37, 35 and 98 yards in a 56-13 thrashing of No. 11 Western Sierra in the opening round of the playoffs Friday night at Frank Meyer Field in San Andreas.
“Going into tonight, we were all kind of upset with the seeding that we got, but we know how good we are,” Calaveras tackle/defensive end Tristan Wilson said. “We know who we’ve played this season and we know that we are absolutely one of the better teams in this division.”
Historically, Calaveras has not fared well in the playoffs. Since 2004, Calaveras has reached the postseason 14 times and has been unable to reach the second round in eight of those years. Since 2004, Calaveras has only got out of the second round once and that came in 2010, where it lost to Escalon 22-20 in the section championship game.
For first-year head coach Doug Clark, Friday’s game was more about trying to not be another one-and-done team, rather than sticking it to any selection committee.
“We just wanted to come out and play our style of football,” Clark said after picking up his first career playoff victory as a head coach. “We have a reputation of getting out of the playoffs early, so I guess it was more of a statement that says that we are ready to make a run here.”
Calaveras will next face No. 3 Ripon Christian, who was one of the five division VI teams who had the night off. With Ripon Christian coaches in the stands, Calaveras didn’t give them much to see offensively. Not because Calaveras was trying to hide plays or schemes, rather, nearly half of Calaveras’ running plays ended up in the end zone.
Calaveras only rushed the ball 15 times, but those runs totaled 467 yards and seven scores. Calaveras averaged an astounding 31.1 yards per carry. Any offensive lineman would be pleased with that production and Wilson is no exception.
“I take a lot of pride in how well we run the ball,” Wilson said. “We work on it a lot in practice and we are still trying to get better and better. As linemen, we make do with what we’ve got and we give a lot of effort out there.”
Of Calaveras’ seven rushing touchdowns, junior Clayton Moore was responsible for four of them. Moore scored on runs of 38, 10, 68 and 37 yards for his first career four touchdown game.
“I love it,” said Moore, who had a game-high 167 yards on only six carries for an average of 27.8 per attempt. “I didn’t think it would be possible, but my guys were throwing good blocks and all I had to do was make the right read.”
Moore’s first score came less than three minutes into the game. Moore took a toss to his left from senior quarterback Nolan Dart, got the corner and streaked up the Western Sierra sideline for the 38-yard score.
Less than a minute later, Moore was back in the end zone. Calaveras’ defense forced a fumble and took over possession at the Western Sierra 10-yard line. One play later, Moore followed a strong block by sophomore fullback Jake Hopper and dove over the goal line to give Calaveras a 14-0 lead.
Trailing by 14, Western Sierra was able to move the ball through the air and got deep into Calaveras territory. But senior Jonny Lozano intercepted a pass and returned it 99-yards for the score, only to have the play called back because of a block in the back. Regardless, Calaveras took over on its own 20. On the first play after the Lozano interception, junior Phoenix Nguyen went untouched on his way to an 80-yard touchdown with 4:33 to play in the first quarter.
Calaveras extended its lead to 28-0 early in the second quarter, when Hopper broke free for a 31-yard score. Not to be outdone, Moore scored his third touchdown of the first half as he went right up the gut for a 68-yard score to give Calaveras a 35-0 lead with 6:49 to play in the second quarter. Moore capped his outstanding first half with another touchdown run, this time of 37 yards and Calaveras led 42-7 at halftime.
Leading by 35 with one half to play, Calaveras knew it had the game in the bag, but was aware that it still had to play smart football and wouldn't risk losing a player for next week’s game against Ripon Christian.
“We didn’t want to do anything stupid,” junior Jake Black said. “We didn’t need anybody getting ejected for doing something stupid because we need everyone for the rest of the playoffs.”
Calaveras scored only one of its eight touchdowns through the air and that came 38 seconds into the third quarter. Dart connected with Black, who made one man miss and then outran the rest of the Western Sierra secondary for a 35-yard score.
“The open space is where I shine,” Black said. “I like being able to make some moves.”
With Calaveras’ roster larger with the addition of junior varsity players, younger talent was able to get some playoff experience. But none were younger than freshman running back Braeden Orlandi. With 2:40 to play in the third quarter, Orlandi got to carry the ball for the first time in his varsity career. And what did the freshman do? He rumbled 98 yards for a touchdown.
“That felt great,” Orlandi said of his score that gave Calaveras a 56-7 lead. “It’s a dream come true to score in a playoff game as a freshman.”
Senior kicker Andrew Celli was a perfect 8 for 8 in PATs and perhaps made the loudest tackle of the night. On his kickoff midway through the second quarter, Western Sierra had a good return and Celli was the only player between the returner and the end zone. Celli, who is an all-league soccer player, put his shoulder down and delivered the hit of his career, which saved a touchdown.
From Celli’s hit, to Moore’s four touchdowns and strong defensive play, Clark couldn't find much to complain about after the game.
“We played great, fundamental football,” Clark said. “There were hardly any mistakes and we didn't turn the ball over. We played disciplined, solid football.”
The Calaveras players and coaches were all smiles after the 56-13 win over Western Sierra, but Clark made sure to let his squad know that come Monday, it’s back to business. He reminded them that Ripon Christian is the No. 3 team for a reason and that it’s going to be a battle.
“We have to go in as if we are the underdogs,” Clark said. “We are traveling and are the No. 6 seed. We are the underdogs, but I want my players to take the attitude that we are here for them to beat us.”
Moore added, “We should be totally ready for them. I think that they have to be ready for us.”
And while Calaveras’ season will continue for at least another week, Clark can now officially cross off winning a playoff game from his to-do list.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget,” he said. “You will never forget your first year of anything. I’m just not ready to be done.”
No. 6 Calaveras will take on No. 3 Ripon Christian at 7 p.m., Friday Nov. 15 in Ripon.