There’s no way around it; Friday night’s matchup between Calaveras High School and the Sonora High School Wildcats is for the Mother Lode League championship. Yes, there are still two more games to play after Friday, but make no mistake about it, the league champion will be crowned Friday night in Sonora.
Sonora is 2-0 in league play and Calaveras is 2-0 in league play. Every member of Calaveras’ squad is looking at Friday’s clash like it’s a championship game.
“I’m going to say that this is the league title game,” Calaveras junior Donivan Giangregorio said. “It’s just like last year. Last year we had a chance and we blew it. We’re not going to blow it this year.”
In order for Calaveras to stand alone in first place, it must beat Sonora. That’s much easier said than done. Sonora has played 31 league games since exiting the Valley Oak League and entering the Mother Lode League in the fall of 2014. And in those 31 games, Sonora is undefeated.
Knowing that every team will one day lose, Calaveras head coach Doug Clark asked his players one simple question for them to think about the entire week leading up to Friday’s road game.
“Why not us?” Clark said.
Clark knows firsthand that good things happen when teams beat Sonora. The last time Sonora lost to a Mother Lode League team came in September of 2013, before the Wildcats were MLL members. Calaveras and Sonora played in San Andreas and it was the then Redskins who beat the Wildcats 13-7. Calaveras went on to win the league title.
“It seems like forever ago,” Clark said about beating Sonora in a game when he called the defense as coordinator. “I remember it like it was yesterday, but that being said, when you’ve played a team so many times since without a victory, each year feels like 10 years.”
On paper, Calaveras should be the favorite to win. A 5-2 record with a win over previously undefeated Amador looks much better than a 3-4 losing record. However, Sonora’s losses came against top-shelf opponents. The Wildcats fell to Oakdale, Ripon, Escalon and Hilmar, which have a combined record of 25-4.
“I can see us being the underdog since Sonora, at this point, is 31-0 in league,” Clark said. “With Oakdale and Hilmar on their schedule, I’d say they had a tougher preseason than we did. Their record is no indication of how good they are.”
After starting the year 0-4, Sonora has taken three consecutive wins and has done so in an impressive fashion. In their three wins, the Wildcats outscored West, Argonaut and Bret Harte 144-17. Sonora is coming off a 69-0 thumping of Bret Harte. What makes Sonora such an explosive offensive team?
“Nobody else in this league runs the option and Sonora runs it pretty freaking well,” Giangregorio said.
Friday will be the second time in as many weeks that Calaveras is the underdog. Last week, undefeated Amador suffered its first loss of the year as Calaveras shut down the Buffaloes’ high-powered offense in a 17-10 road victory.
“We didn’t play our best against Amador and we were able to come out on top,” Giangregorio said. “We know that we have to improve this week and go beat Sonora.”
As if Friday’s game couldn’t get any bigger, it is also Sonora’s homecoming night. Not only will Sonora want to put on a good show for a capacity crowd, it also wants to continue its league dominance.
“Having Sonora as such a powerhouse in the league gives us that extra motivation to be the team that can bring them down,” Calaveras senior quarterback/cornerback Nolan Dart said.
With Friday being homecoming night, that means, technically, it’s homecoming for Clark. Clark, who played football as a Wildcat, admits there is a little extra motivation every time Calaveras and Sonora play. And while at one time he did don the green and gold, there is no question as to his current allegiance.
“I think it’s always going to mean a little more (to play Sonora) because I have families, teammates and fellow coaches who are still over there,” Clark said. “Beyond that, it’s been long enough now; I want Calaveras to win.”
Calaveras’ players and coaches believe that it’s time for a new king to sit at the top of the Mother Lode League mountain. And Clark continues to ask his players just one simple question: “Why not us?”