Concord De La Salle’s football team is making its annual road trip to Southern California to play in the CIF state championship Open Division bowl game.
Football fans in Southern California always know what playing the Spartans looks like: They have an offensive line that’s as precise as a military drill unit; they have a running back who’s fast; they have a quarterback who can run the veer option; they have a defense that’s aggressive and fearless.
De La Salle has participated every year in state bowl games since they were created in 2006. The Spartans are 7-6 and on a three-game losing streak. Coach Justin Alumbaugh understands what’s changed. The caliber of opponent in Southern California has gotten much better.
“That 2013 St. John Bosco team, we were watching the film the other day,” he said. “Good lord.”
The rise of St. John Bosco and Santa Ana Mater Dei in recent years has left De La Salle seeking new ways to get back on top. The days when the Spartans would come down and thump on Southern California opponents, such as a 48-8 victory over Anaheim Servite in 2010 or 35-0 over Westlake Village Westlake in 2011, might be over.
“It’s a good challenge we’re not shying away from,” Alumbaugh said of the new caliber of team ready to take on the Spartans. “The level of the teams right now is impressive. We have to grind as best we can. Toughness and grit — that has to be a given when we’re playing.”
The Spartans (12-1) arrive to face St. John Bosco (12-1) at Cerritos College on Saturday night having thought long and hard how to deal with the changing environment.
The Braves won 20-14 in 2013 and 56-33 in 2016.
De La Salle has made changes in its offensive attack, going to almost a 50-50 split between the veer option and a spread attack. That gives the Spartans options to pass if they fall behind.
Former coach Bob Ladouceur stepped down as head coach in 2012 with a 399-25-3 record. He was an assistant until last season but still offers advice to Alumbaugh and players on campus. He has been studying St. John Bosco and Mater Dei all season. St. John Bosco defeated Mater Dei 39-34 in the Southern Section Division 1 final two weeks ago.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time on them,” Ladouceur told the San Jose Mercury News. “You’ve got to be good to beat Mater Dei — there is no doubt about it — and those guys are very good. We’re going to have our hands full.”
De La Salle has won 28 consecutive North Coast Section titles and remains pretty much unbeatable in its section, but Southern California teams no longer fear the Spartans. They’ve gotten bigger, faster and stronger. Controlling the line of scrimmage against the Spartans’ always effective blockers is one of the keys to beating De La Salle.
De La Salle figures to be more competitive this season against the Braves because they have an experienced quarterback in junior Dorian Hale, whose versatility makes him ideal to run the veer or spread.
It will be the final game for St. John Bosco quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who’s graduating this month before heading to Clemson to begin his college career after playing in an all-star game next month. Uiagalelei is coming off his most memorable performance as a Brave. He passed for a school-record 444 yards and five touchdowns to rally his team from a 28-5 deficit to defeat Mater Dei.
Alumbaugh understands how good the Braves are but he also knows that his players are capable of rising up in big games, too.
“Our kids are up for a challenge,” he said. “This isn’t the guys’ first rodeo.”