Joshua Linville teaches English and publication design at Encinal High School. His students contributed to this report.
Blocked FG Stuns Jets; Secures Title for Del Norte
As senior Isaiah Smith crossed the goal line with eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter of the NCS D-V Championship Game it appeared that the Encinal Jets would eke out one final victory in an already magical season. Smith’s 68 yard scamper brought the score to 14-13, with Encinal only needing an extra point to tie the game.
However, the Jets were penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration, as shadows of Thanksgiving’s Egg Bowl game loomed in the background. A false start pushed the extra point attempt back even further, resulting in an oh-so-close 40-yard miss by senior John Brindley.
“It hurts when you lose close ball games like this,” said Encinal coach Keith Minor. “These are the ones you remember. These the ones you’ll remember the rest of your life.”
The miss wasn’t the final chance for Encinal, but it was incredibly deflating for a raucous crowd that came to see the Jets win their first championship since 2008. Instead, several hundred Warriors fans who drove more than six hours witnessed Del Norte’s (12-1) first-ever NCS Championship, a 14-13 victory at Hayward High Field.
The Jets threw the first punch of the night, a 39-yard, one-handed grab by senior Teddy Oliver from quarterback David Romero-Reinholz.
“I ran a fade route and just gave the DB a quick release,” said Oliver. “He was holding the whole left side of my body so when I saw the ball in the air, the only thing I was thinking was either I catch it or I die.”
With Encinal up 7-0, Del Norte controlled much of the rest of the first half with their running game.The Warriors responded with a 10-play, 78-yard drive, punctuated by a 15-yard Chase Blackburn touchdown run.
Later in the second quarter, Levi Cox-Cooley ripped off a 34-yard run before being brought down at the 1-yard line. Quarterback O.J. Calleja dove in the endzone one play later, giving Del Norte a 14-7 halftime lead. The Warriors would finish with 47 rushes for 201 yards. Calleja completed just 2 of 3 passes for 27 yards.
The Jets had a more balanced approach on offense, running 27 times for 126 yards and passing for 158 yards. Romero-Reinholz was 17 for 30 on the night. Junior Keirr Stewart had 8 catches for 56 yards and Oliver had 2 catches for 56 yards.
“Del Norte just did what they had to do in the first half,” Stewart said. “But we didn’t execute the game plan all the way in the second half.”
With the ball at the 25-yard line, Encinal trailed 14-13 with two minutes to go in the game. The Jets mixed in a series of runs and passes, before coming to a fourth and 10 on the 41-yard line. With less than a minute to play, and the season on the line, Romero-Reinholz evaded Del Norte linemen and ran down the sidelines for a 25-yard gain and a first down. A Warriors’ penalty brought the ball to the 8-yard line with 16 seconds left on the clock.
With no more timeouts available, coach Minor sent Brindley out to attempt a 25-yard field goal to win the game. But Brindley couldn’t repeat his success from last week. Chase Blackburn, who had blocked two field goals earlier in Del Norte’s season, played hero once again. His third block of the season would be his most important, sealing victory over Encinal (11-2).
“I couldn’t be any happier,” said Del Norte coach Nick White. “There is an appreciation for everything that goes on to achieve this sort of goal. It takes a complete effort for this to happen.”
The blocked field goal left many of the Jets players stunned and visibly distraught. The heart-breaking loss brought an end to an otherwise successful season.
After coach Minor addressed his players, senior receiver Teddy Oliver zealously addressed the rest of his teammates.
“After the game I let them know that all the coaches and fellow seniors were proud of everybody,” Oliver said. “I know that every single player on team left everything they had on the field. Life is all about lessons being learned. Next year they will have a lot of seniors on the team. Five want them to bring it home next time around.”
Coach Minor echoed Oliver’s sentiments.
“We’ll be back,” Minor said. “We’re going to have about 20 to 25 seniors next year. We’re confident our young guys are going to step up.”
Del Norte moves on to face King’s Academy of Sunnyvale in the CIF State Championship.