For 3½ months, inclement weather did not disrupt Friday Night Lights in the Bay Area. That no longer is the case as the high school football season moves into the regional round.
One week after gusty winds and rain — at times heavy — wreaked havoc on the section championships, survivors are gearing up for another weekend of soggy football.
“You could put me on a mountain in Lake Tahoe and it wouldn’t look any different than I do in a cold football game,” said Serra coach Patrick Walsh, with a laugh. “It’s boots and gloves and literally just snow gear to stay warm.”
Serra will be back at it Saturday on its home field in San Mateo against San Joaquin Memorial for the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Division 1-A championship.
Rain is in the forecast, just as it is Friday.
If the results are anything like last weekend’s, look for teams that play strong defense and run effectively to advance.
This past Saturday at Independence High in San Jose, Serra claimed the Central Coast Section Division I title with a 17-0 victory over Valley Christian. In blustery conditions, the Padres recovered four fumbles and intercepted two passes while shutting out their West Catholic Athletic League rival for the second time in four weeks.
“It was raining on the other sideline, too. And it was windy on the other sideline, too,” Walsh said. “The elements this time of year test mental toughness to a great degree. And there’s also strategic implications on play-calling and how to handle the elements.”
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Los Gatos and Rancho Cotate also advanced to a NorCal regional with shutouts, though each avoided torrential conditions by playing Friday.
Neither is likely to be spared this weekend.
Los Gatos coach Mark Krail, whose team beat Oak Grove 21-0 in the CCS Division II final, credits defensive coordinator Heath Clark for his game plan and the players for buying in.
A 110-mile trek to Santa Rosa for a NorCal regional Friday against Cardinal Newman will test the Los Gatos defense on a rainy and windy night.
“You would expect the defense would hopefully travel on a less-than-perfect night, which is what it certainly looks like it will be on Friday,” Krail said. “And, obviously, special teams come into play. The snaps and the holds and the kicking game are also magnified because possessions are going to be tough to move the ball.”
Whenever there is rain or poor weather in the forecast, Clayton Valley Charter coach Tim Murphy does all he can to make sure practice conditions are worse than anything his players might experience on game day.
“Put it this way, we put our kids in the worst possible position that there is no way it will be that bad on Friday night,” Murphy said, without elaborating. “So now everything else is easier.”
Clayton Valley and its regional opponent Friday night, Elk Grove, are built for ugly conditions.
Both keep the ball at ground level.
“This game’s going to be over quick,” Murphy said. “They throw the ball 2½ times a game. It’s amazing. Makes us look like an air-raid offense.”
As many coaches see it, running the ball, minimizing turnovers and playing sound defense are recipes for success when the calendar moves to late November and December.
In rainy conditions last week at Pittsburg High, Clayton Valley lost three fumbles in the first half against Campolindo, regrouped at intermission and scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to advance with a 27-7 victory in the NCS Division II final.
How important is a running attack and defense at playoff time?
“It’s a definite advantage, absolutely,” Murphy said. “I think a lot of spread teams, when they get into the playoffs, it’s a little bit harder to run that offense. At the same time, if you don’t play good defense in the playoffs, you’re always going to be out of it.”
Rancho Cotate coach Gehrig Hotaling, along with members of his staff, used the Thanksgiving break as teachers to dive into film and assemble a game plan to limit Los Lomas running back Isaiah Newell, an Oregon State commit.
“We never imagined that we’d shut them out,” Hotaling said. “But we thought we could certainly contain the kid.”
He added: “It was a perfect storm of defense.”
With temperatures hovering around 40 degrees, Rancho Cotate prevailed 7-0 in the NCS Division IV final.
The climate and surroundings won’t be as forgiving Saturday at Manteca in a NorCal regional against Sierra.
“It’s going to be a major factor because it’s going to be a grass field and it’s going to be on probably heavy downpour,” Hotaling said. “So that equals mud and it will be more of an issue.”
He added: “You can probably throw early in the game. But once the ball situation deteriorates in the second half, it might be difficult to throw.”
Serra tries to leave nothing to chance.
Its student managers — nicknamed “Meerkats” — will rotate as many as 20 football during a rainy game. The Padres employ coolers to make sure the balls won’t sit aimlessly on the sideline.
“I think if we’re playing late in a season and the difference between a dry football and a wet or slippery football is $40 at Big 5 Sporting Goods, then we’re going to buy another football,” Walsh said.
Serra often defers if it wins the coin toss.
The one exception is if the wind is a factor, such as during the CCS Division I final.
“Right before the game I reminded the team that if we win the toss we’re taking the ball and we have to get two first downs,” said Walsh, who prefers the wind at his back during the second and fourth quarters.
The gambit paid off as Serra began the game with an 18-play drive that included a fake field goal and a fourth-down touchdown run.
The Padres masterfully weathered the storm last week. They’ll be looking to do the same Saturday.
A trip next week to presumably sunny Southern California for the Division 1-A state championship game.
Source: East Bay CIF NorCal football: How teams are dealing with rain, wind, cold