Football

De La Salle vs. San Ramon Valley: Five keys to Friday’s huge football game

History says De La Salle will beat San Ramon Valley on Friday night. Thirty-two years of history, in fact.

But has history watched Luke Baker play quarterback for SRV?

Has history seen four-star linebacker Marco Jones make play after play for the Danville school’s defense?

Has history witnessed what San Ramon Valley has done this season? The Wolves have won all six of their games by no fewer than 23 points.

They hammered St. Ignatius 42-14 and Acalanes 44-21 to open the season. Rolled through Elk Grove 45-7 and McClymonds 35-7. Crushed Liberty 66-12 and cruised past Clayton Valley Charter 35-7.

Baker, who received Bay Area News Group player of the year honors after leading SRV to a state championship game as a junior, has again led the way.

While completing 67.5% of his passes, he has thrown for 1,845 yards and 22 touchdowns with just two interceptions.

He’ll need to be on point on his home field Friday, especially with sparkplug running back John Ben Pau Mendoza (knee) out for the season.

“Whenever you have a quarterback that’s as good as him, man, you’ve got a great shot in any game,” DLS coach Justin Alumbaugh said. “I don’t care what level of football you’re playing.”

SRV is the latest in a small group of teams from the North Coast Section to have a shot against DLS since the Concord school’s last loss within its own section, 265 games and 32 years ago.

The Spartans are 264-0-1 against NCS opponents since losing to Pittsburg in 1991.

But will SRV come through where others have not?

Here are five keys that should determine the outcome:

DLS OFFENSIVE PLAN: KEEP ON RUNNING

CONCORD - De La Salle running back Dominic Kelley (21) stands in front of the student section in Concord after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter. De La Salle and St. Mary's-Stockton played a high school football game at De La Salle high school in Concord, Calif on Friday, Sept. 15 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)De La Salle running back Dominic Kelley (21) stands in front of his team’s student section in Concord after scoring a touchdown against St. Mary’s-Stockton on Sept. 15, 2023. (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 

In this era of high school football, where elite teams often put up video game passing numbers, De La Salle is the opposite.

The Spartans have dipped their toes in the passing waters, including earlier this season. But until further notice, they have reverted back to their tried-and-true formula of almost exclusively running the ball.

And in a game such as Friday’s, when the opposing quarterback can do serious damage with the ball in his possession, long, time-consuming drives will be DLS’s top priority.

The strategy worked on the road last month against Folsom (14-7 victory) and should again if the Spartans can keep moving the chains behind running backs Dominic Kelley and Derrick Blanche and an improving offensive line.

“If you want to limit the opportunities of a great quarterback, don’t give him opportunities,” Alumbaugh said.

SRV: STRIKE EARLY AND OFTEN

San Ramon Valley's Dylan Deitsch (13) runs with the ball against McClymonds in the second quarter of their game at San Ramon Valley High School in Danville, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)San Ramon Valley’s Dylan Deitsch (13) runs with the ball against McClymonds on Sept. 15, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Oftentimes when teams win the coin toss, they defer to the second half. Our advice if the coin lands in SRV’s favor on Friday: Take the ball.

If Baker and Co. start fast and get a lead – even 10 or 14 points – De La Salle has yet to show that it has the offense to come back.

In their four-game winning streak, the Spartans have trailed just once, 3-0 to St. Mary’s-Stockton. They flipped that score almost immediately as Johnathan Guerrero returned the kickoff to the St. Mary’s 8 and Kelley followed with a 3-yard touchdown run.

DLS (4-2) went on to win 24-10.

“They’re probably going to run the ball every play, try and win the time of possession battle,” Baker said. “It will be nice to get them off the field and just capitalize when we get the chance.”

DLS: GET PHYSICAL ON DEFENSE

De La Salle's Kai Moananu-Apela (57) tackles Folsom quarterback Ryder Lyons (3) in the second quarter of their game at Folsom High School in Folsom, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)De La Salle’s Kai Moananu-Apela (57) tackles Folsom quarterback Ryder Lyons (3) on Sept. 22, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Another way to slow down a high-powered offense is to turn up the heat physically. De La Salle has guys who can do that.

Edge rusher Drew Cunningham and linemen Matthew Johnson and Chris Biller are a handful and defensive backs Jaden Jefferson and Guerrero can make passing windows tight in the secondary.

And the defense has improved week after week.

Since giving up 35 points to Orange Lutheran and 28 to Serra, which included a pick-six, DLS has allowed 17 points to St. Francis, 10 to St. Mary’s, seven to Folsom and zero to McClymonds.

“I’m happy that our defense is playing well,” Alumbaugh said. “There is no doubt about it. But we can’t rely on zeros for the rest of the year. That’s going to come back and bite us unless we get our offense going more consistently.”

SRV DEFENSE: BENDING IS OK, BREAKING IS NOT

San Ramon Valley's Henry Ellis (19) tackles Clayton Valley Charter's Michael Keck (9) in the first quarter of their game at Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)San Ramon Valley’s Henry Ellis (19) tackles Clayton Valley Charter’s Michael Keck in the first quarter on Oct. 6, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

San Ramon Valley certainly bent a couple of times in the first half last week at Clayton Valley. Two long drives by the home team – one to start the game, another later in the opening half – could have changed the complexion of the scoreboard.

Each time, SRV held Clayton Valley to zero points.

In some ways, that was a microcosm of the defense’s season. SRV’s opponents are averaging about 300 yards of offense per game but only 11.3 points.

The Wolves have intercepted seven passes (four in the Liberty game) and recovered five fumbles.

Plus, they have Jones, who has offers from some of college football’s biggest names, as their anchor.

Jones knows that De La Salle will try to attack SRV with a punishing ground attack.

He welcomes the challenge.

“They’re a physical team. They’re always physical,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a physical game. There is no denying that. Who doesn’t like physical games?”

BRIGHT LIGHTS: EMBRACE THE ATMOSPHERE

The San Ramon Valley student section raise their hands at the start of their game against McClymonds at San Ramon Valley High School in Danville, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)The San Ramon Valley student section raises its hands at the start of the game against McClymonds on Sept. 15, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Given that this game has been marked on calendars for weeks, the atmosphere will be electric.

“I anticipate Danville to get pretty excited,” SRV coach Aaron Becker said.

But as in any big game, which team will thrive in the atmosphere, and which one will stumble?

De La Salle has played in many games like this one through the years and faced many challenges, near and far.

SRV has seen it firsthand. The Wolves are 0-18 against the Spartans during the Concord school’s 32-year unbeaten run within the NCS, losing by an average of 36.3 points.

If Friday’s game unfolds as the one did in 2016, maybe Luke Baker can finish some family business. His brother Clark threw for 321 yards and three TDs in a 28-27 loss to DLS seven years ago.

“We’ve been there before,” Becker said. “We’re under no illusions on what will walk into the stadium. The kids will play hard. We’ll go try and win the football game. We’ll see where the chips fall.”

Alumbaugh, who lives near SRV, says matchups like Friday’s are great for football.

“It will be bananas, for sure,” he said. “It will be a tough environment for us to play in. It’s times like this that I am happy we’ve had the schedule we’ve had. We’re not going into an environment that we’re not used to.”

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