It was the final high school football game of a season that stretched over five months of games and 20 weeks of practices. Concord De La Salle came away with its seventh state title since state bowl games began in 2006, defeating Corona Centennial, 28-21, in a rousing CIF Open Division final Saturday night at Sacramento State.
Afterward, watching running back J.J. Taylor of Centennial shake hands and receive hugs from the same De La Salle players who spent 48 minutes trying to tackle him offered a glimpse of why so much effort and commitment is put in.
Taylor, 5 feet 6 and 170 pounds, had 169 yards in 29 carries. Twice on fourth down, he was stopped an inch or two away from a first down that could have changed the outcome of the game. That’s how evenly matched these two powerful programs have become.
When the game was over and De La Salle players went to celebrate and Centennial players stood in disappointment, everyone soon lined up to congratulate each other in a tradition that continues to make sports special at any level.
The fact De La Salle (13-1) came out ahead of Centennial (14-1) to take home the championship trophy showed that the Spartans remain the team to beat in California prep football no matter the venue, no matter the opponent.
There were lots of lessons from a season featuring extraordinary moments of scoring, remarkable play at the receiver position and plenty of successes and failures.
The bowl games expanded to 13 this season and the top five games were moved from Carson to Sacramento. Attendance wasn’t great (14,626 over two days), but Hornet Stadium is a good facility and based on the many teenagers showing tears of joy and tears of sadness after games, it’s clear the participants truly care what happens.
It was a season not without controversy. There were forfeits because of ineligible players. There were teams that ended their seasons prematurely because of injuries and dwindling rosters. There were continuing concerns raised about concussions and whether playing 16 games in a high school season is too long.
Changes are coming. The Southern Section is expected to adopt a playoff structure in January that will result in teams being put in divisions based on their last two years of accomplishments rather than based on what league they play in. That means Mission Viejo, with a 28-game winning streak, will be moving to the revamped Pac-5, and longtime Pac-5 schools will be moving out.
Most importantly, coaches shouldn’t forget why they are needed. Regardless of a game’s outcome, their job is to teach life lessons, and Coach Matt Logan of Centennial should be proud because his top player (Taylor) gets it.
Asked whether he was frustrated, Taylor said, “Not really. I did what I tried to do and the team did what we tried to do. It didn’t work out as planned. It’s life. It happens.”