For the first time in four football seasons, Davis High hopes to have its helmet in the ring when area fans begin talking about playoff schools.
But the Blue Devils face a big uphill climb. The Delta Valley Conference has at least three of the Sacramento area’s top teams counted among its six members.
And come Friday night, either DHS or Monterey Trail will be able to make a case as a fourth postseason contender.
While coaches like Grant’s Mike Alberghini and Elk Grove’s Chris Nixon have taken note of Davis’ obvious improvement, Devil coach Steve Smyte says his team is taking things one game a time: “We always discuss what we can control.”
“There are no free passes in this league, which is just the way we want it.” Smyte adds. “If you are a competitor, you enjoy playing good teams.”
That said, the Blue Devils will be able to have a lot of fun the next five Fridays. Every DHS opponent is “very good,” according to Smyte.
But just how good?
Elk Grove and Franklin are unbeaten and ranked as the top two Sac-Joaquin Section schools. Monterey Trail has four wins. Laguna Creek and Grant are both 2-3, thanks to rugged schedules and a lingering tragedy in Pacer Nation.
And did we mention the Devils are averaging 36 points a game and have thrown two shutouts?
Will the mighty fall? Is Grant a snake in the grass? Can David, er, Davis get past a Goliath or two and find the postseason?
Here’s a look at who’s who in the Delta Valley Conference …
DHS (3-2): Relatively healthy and deeper in talent than they have been, the Blue Devils can take a huge step forward with a Friday road win against the Mustangs.
DHS sports one of the most prolific offenses in the area. QB Grant Dickerson has thrown for almost 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, and is on pace to erase school records in both categories.
Junior tailback Winfred Roberson has backup in Wally Perez and Adam Inouye and the Devil receiving corps is second to none with C.K. Hicks, Kevin Sorensen, Brett Bloomfield and an able-bodied supporting cast.
With cornerbacks Ahmari Hayes and Bloomfield and safeties Adam King and Quinn Williams joining linebackers Brendan MacDonald, Mike McTygue and Inouye on seek-and-destroy missions, it has allowed a big, quick defensive line to create havoc up front.
The Devils have a real chance to make some DVC noise.
Elk Grove (5-0): After beating legitimate playoff schools like Nevada Union, Del Campo and Lincoln (Stockton), the Thundering Herd has served notice — the league title goes through Elk Grove.
Dazzling running back Robert Frazier has 810 yards rushing and 10 TDs. Frazier is coming off an injury-plagued junior campaign that nonetheless saw him go for 1,494 yards and 21 scores as The Herd rushed for a head-spinning 4,650 yards during a 12-1 season. Elk Grove lost in the D-II quarterfinals.
Gone is Deon Ransom (1,825, 27 TDs), but Frazier now has an heir apparent in Wadus Parker. The junior has 499 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns, and both backs are averaging 10 yards a pop.
On defense, a cat-quick line tries to blow things up on all-out rushes — then chases the quarterback to exhaustion. As a result, linebackers like Parker and Noah Letuligaseno Ta’amu have recovered five fumbles, with Parker taking one back 70 yards for a touchdown in a 43-19 win over Nevada Union on Sept. 21.
Stop the run, stop Elk Grove.
Last year: Elk Grove beat DHS, 35-18 as Ransom ran for 172 yards. An injured Frazier had 15 yards on three carries. Devil QB Shayne Reagan threw for three touchdowns. This year: at Ron & Mary Brown Stadium, Nov. 2.
Franklin (5-0): The Wildcats are doing it with defense, allowing only 59 points in five games against teams like Jesuit, Tracy and Cosumnes Oaks.
Anchored by a defensive line that features tackle Robert Vi (5-foot-10, 215 pounds) and end Randall Paine (5-10, 180), Franklin has been downright stingy since allowing 21 points in the first quarter of the season at Thousand Oaks.
On offense, the ‘Cats are similar to Davis in that a number of players could strike at any given moment. Go-to guy Trevon Lampley lines up all over the field. His seven touchdowns have come on 158 yards rushing and 157 receiving.
Six Franklin players are considered primary ball carriers, amassing 1,167 ground yards between them.
Last year: The Wildcats ripped DHS, 62-21 as Lampley scored five TDs. This year: Oct. 12 at FHS.
Grant (2-3): No excuses, says Alberghini. The Pacers are ready to go.
Coming off of a 31-30 win over an uncharacteristic Del Oro (1-4), Grant remains a team in mourning after assistant coach Ed Coleman apparently killed his girlfriend, then committed suicide last month.
GHS also is dealing with a carload of injuries. But Alberghini says it’s time to see if his Pacers have anything left for the DVC.
Turning to the air with Isaiah Rios at quarterback, Grant has seen the senior throw for 856 yards and three scores. But Rios can be chased into interceptions (six) and isn’t the ground threat that last year’s QB Shaq Thompson proved.
On the ground, it’s been a potpourri of backs, with Marquise Carter-Petit (668 yards and eight scores) emerging as the Pacers’ No. 1.
Grant remains mammoth in the trenches — Shawn Matatuia (6-4, 380) and Darrin Paulo (6-5, 300) are examples — and the secondary has its normal quickness in all-leaguer Trayvon Henderson (6-2, 195).
Last year: Grant won, 58-0. This year: DHS travels to Sacramento on Oct. 26.
Laguna Creek (2-3): Perhaps not an up year for the Cardinals, having Sheldon and Jesuit on their preseason schedule didn’t make things any easier.
With Charles Samuel II and Isaiah Morrison carrying the ball early, it might be that sophomore quarterback Cecil Williams (287 yards and three touchdowns rushing) is emerging as Laguna Creek’s bell cow.
With only 93 attempts, Williams has put eight of his 30 completions in the end zone. Senior Denzel Johnson (6-1, 185) has scored on six of those tosses.
But the offense doesn’t seem to be getting much of a chance. Ball control by the opposition has seen Laguna Creek foes score 138 points while using the ground to burn the clock.
Nick Watkins and Robert Maldonado, both 300-pounders, do provide some hefty protection in coach Dave Morton’s 50-50 offense.
Last game: Laguna Creek beat DHS, 28-14, as two key interceptions by LGHS turned around the game. This year: The Blue Devils visit the Cardinals on Oct. 19.
Monterey Trail (4-1): When Mustang linebacker Sterling Powell flexes his muscles, there usually is hell to pay on the other side of the line.
The 6-0, 185-pound senior is one of the area’s leading tacklers with 64 stops. His team’s defense has held opponents to only 41 points and Monterey Trail has recorded six sacks and forced 10 turnovers (returning two for touchdowns).
With a trio of running backs — Powell (390 yards, four TDs), Trey Nahhas (301, five) and Elijah McGolthin (499, five) — doing a majority of the work, The Trail has been a possession team with 1,452 yards rushing.
The Mustang defense has repeatedly given its offense a short field, so QB Donovan Robinson has rarely had to put the ball up — just 21 times for 214 yards, to be exact.
Last year: The Blue Devils lost to Monterey Trail, 27-14, in the season finale at DHS. This year: The Devils travel to Macres Stadium on Friday (7:15 p.m.).
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.