MODESTO — The news that arrived Sunday morning drew a sigh of relief from Trent Merzon and Roger Canepa. The news that followed in the afternoon drew a wide smile from both football coaches.
Oakdale and Central Catholic high schools are heading to the inaugural Northern California bowls, and both play this weekend at Lincoln High of Stockton the site of their dominant section championship victories.
Oakdale (13-1), making its first appearance in the states seven-year bowl series, faces Clayton Valley (12-1) and 2,900-yard rusher Joe Protheroe in the NorCal Division 2 Bowl Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Central Catholic (12-2), which lost to St. Bonaventure in a State Bowl in 2007, plays McClymonds of Oakland (9-3) in the NorCal Division 4 Bowl on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
There were no surprises in the 10 Northern California selections, with the top draw expected to be Saturdays Open Bowl featuring explosive Folsom (14-0) and De La Salle of Concord (13-0). The Bay Area dynasty has played in a State Bowl every year, going back to its creation in 2006.
Oakdale and Central began playoff runs a month ago confident that a NorCal berth would be their reward for a Sac-Joaquin Section title, but nothing was certain until the states 10 section commissioners voted Sunday for the five regional bowls in Northern and Southern California.
CalHiSports has had Central Catholic ranked No. 1 in its state D4 rankings since summer, and is projecting the Raiders as heavy favorites the next two weeks. The school has never won a state championship on the field.
It would be the third Stanislaus District school to win a State Bowl: Modesto Christian won the Small School Bowl in 2009 and Escalon captured the Division 3 Bowl in 2010.
The Raiders are as hot as any team in the state going into the bowl series, including Saturdays 52-10 rout of Escalon a state small-school power that was playing in the section final for the third year in a row.
Their backfield duo of punishing Ray Lomas and explosive Rey Vega (they ran for 329 yards Saturday, averaging 11.8 yards a run) is virtually unheard of in the division for the states smallest schools. Central (410) has a significant enrolment advantage over McClymonds (253), which typically suits up 22 players.
Oakdale, which was considered for a bowl in 2007 after winning the section title, faces a greater challenge.
CalHi projects Clayton Valley a 27-19 winner, in large part due to Protheroe and a run-focused double-wing offense. He topped 450 yards in a semifinal victory, and the Eagles throttled previously perfect Rancho Cotate 35-7 in Fridays North Coast Section final.
REGIONAL BOWL GAMES
Open: Folsom (14-0) vs. De La Salle-Concord (13-0) at Sacramento State, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Division 1: St. Ignatius-San Francisco (10-3) vs. Granite Bay (11-3) at Sacramento State, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Division 2: Clayton Valley-Concord (12-1) vs. Oakdale (13-1) at Lincoln High-Stockton, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Division 3: Marin Catholic (13-1) vs. Sutter (13-0) at Harrison Stadium-Oroville, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Division 4: McClymonds-Oakland (9-3) vs. Central Catholic (12-2) at Lincoln High-Stockton, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Open: Narbonne (14-0) vs. Centennial-Corona (13-1) at Cerritos College, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Division 1: Long Beach Poly (11-3) vs. Clovis North (12-1) at Long Beach City College, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Division 2: Serra-Gardena (12-2) vs. Edison-Huntington Beach (13-1) at Orange Coast College, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Division 3: Madison-San Diego (12-1) vs. Monrovia (12-2) at Monrovia High, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Division 4: Santa Fe Christian-Solana Beach (10-3) vs. Rio Hondo Prep-San Diego (12-1) at Del Norte High-San Diego, Friday, 7:30 p.m.