A year after fire destroyed its town, Paradise’s dream season ends in title game

Paradise's Sam Gieg sacks Willows quarterback Odell Calzada during a regular-season game in October.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The dream season of the Paradise Bobcats ended abruptly Saturday in a 20-7 loss to Sutter Union in the Northern Section Division 3 championship game at River Valley High in Yuba City.

In a game played in a steady, cold rain, Paradise’s two fumbles, two interceptions and two red-zone failures led to a loss in a contest the Bobcats (12-1) never led.

It was the first loss in 13 games for a team on a mission to claim a championship that was denied them last year when their season was cut short after the Nov. 8 Camp fire destroyed about 14,000 homes and left most of the city in rubble in the most destructive wildfire in California history. While all the players and coaches survived, 95 of the 104 players lost their homes, as did all but one of the coaches.

“I’m so proud of these young men,” Paradise coach Rick Prinz said after Saturday’s loss. “What they’ve accomplished is about far more than football. Playing for the town, playing for each other. They never stop fighting.”


Times columnist Bill Plaschke writes about Paradise High School football team’s first season since a devastating fire destroyed their town in November 2018 and claimed the lives of 86 people.

Nov. 26, 2019

Their mere presence in the section title game seemed unimaginable last spring when they began practice with no helmets, no pads, not even a football. Many players had moved out of the area with their families, so they were initially unsure they could even field a team.

They were dropped from their league because of uncertain enrollment numbers, they had to cobble together a schedule, and nobody knew what to expect.

But nobody expected they would roll through their first dozen games with a passion that inspired rebirth in their leveled city.