CARSON -- A quick glance at the calendar reveals how remarkable it is that two high school football teams from the Stanislaus District are still playing football.
Yes, we're well past Thanksgiving and a significant chunk of the holiday shopping season has passed, and the football teams representing Central Catholic and Oakdale high schools are preparing for one more game.
Central, as Division 4 Northern California champions, takes on Santa Fe Christian of Solana Beach today at 4 p.m. in the Home Depot Center, the 27,000-seat home of pro soccer's L.A. Galaxy.
Oakdale, the NorCal Division 2 champion, will play on the same field against Serra of Gardena at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Those two and the other three bowl games will be televised live by Comcast Sports Net California.
So what are the odds against such a strong local contingent invading the field that until recently was patrolled by soccer legend David Beckham?
According to last year's data, 1,055 high schools in California play 11-man football and a total of 104,334 boys put on the pads at those schools.
Ten of those schools will play for state titles this weekend, and two are from right here in our back yard 45 players wearing the Navy and Vegas gold of Central Catholic and 50 donning Oakdale's scarlet and gold.
Yes, this is special.
"To get there and experience that there's nothing like walking in the bowels of that stadium, to see all the TV trucks and everything going on around that place," said Mike Glines, the longtime Central Catholic head coach, whose last official game on the sidelines for the Raiders was in the 2007 state bowl game.
"I remember thinking that somewhere, somebody thought we were good enough to be there, and that in itself was an honor," Glines said.
Despite maintaining a consistent level of gridiron excellence over the decades, all of this is new for Oakdale.
The Mustangs thought they should have been selected for a state bowl in 2007 after claiming a Sac-Joaquin Section title. Prior to this season, all section champions went in front of a regional selection committee, which chose the teams that would go on to play at the state level.
But starting this year, a Northern California regional playoff game was added, pitting two section champions for the right to advance to Carson,
Central Catholic earned its trip by defeating McClymonds of Oakland last Friday, and when Oakdale defeated Clayton Valley of Concord on Saturday, the Mustangs had punched their ticket to the Home Depot Center, no vote needed.
"Every time we've played for a section title it's been a big event, but those don't compare to this," said Marc Malone, Oakdale's superintendent of schools and former Mustangs' quarterback and head football coach. "So for us to play in this game as a NorCal champion is a first, and when you have a storied program like ours, it's rare to have any kind of a new, unique experience."
Because this is uncharted territory for Oakdale, the reaction of the community has yet to be fully gauged. The first 70-passenger community rooters' bus sold out in 30 minutes Monday morning and Malone had no idea how many more buses would be filled for the 674-mile round trip.
He said that some Oakdale fans have mentioned they're making the trek today in time to be able to root for Central Catholic. If so, it would mark one of the first instances of our area's public school fans being compelled to cheer for a private school particularly one in Central often portrayed as renegade for its ability to draw students from an unlimited area.
But such crossover support this weekend should flow both ways, and it would be consistent with what Glines said he has witnessed in the region since stepping down as the Raiders' coach after losing that 2007 title game.
"I think our area in football doesn't get a lot of respect, but respect is earned and Central has won enough games to where a lot of fans in the area don't mind seeing us succeed," Glines said. "I don't see the animosity anymore that I used to feel, and I see more and more athletes in our stands wearing the letter jackets of Modesto City Schools."
This weekend is all about football, yet Malone believes the successes of any school programs on larger stages whether academic decathlon, vocational competitions or athletics can impact the school and entire community in positive and remarkable ways.
"This is something that is unique to a single high school town," Malone said. "Anything related to the school that is able to compete at a high level has a tremendously unifying impact on the whole community.
"At our football games, the people pack our side of the stadium. No matter what their address is, where they work or what political belief they have, you're sitting next to a fan and you have our football team in common."
Central Catholic's community is of a much different makeup, being devoid of physical boundaries. But though the Raiders have won 16 Sac-Joaquin Section football titles double the total of anyone else in the section, reaching the state bowl pulls the alumni out of the woodwork.
"I know the the alums are fired up," Glines said. "Guys I coached have been calling and e-mailing me. Guys who live down in Southern California are calling me with scouting reports on the team we're going to play.
"This is a wonderful Christmas present regardless of the outcome."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.
Division 4: Central Catholic (13-2) vs. Santa Fe Christian of Solana Beach (11-3), 4 p.m.
Division 2: Oakdale (14-1) vs. Serra of Gardena (13-2), 4 p.m.
Online: The Bee will have live updates during the games at www.modbee.com as well as stories, photos and analysis after theyre over.
Television: All state bowl games will be televised live by Comcast SportsNet California. Check your providers listings for possible programming changes.
Results of state championship bowl games involving teams from the Stanislaus District teams since the games were begun in 2006:
2007 (Division 3): St. Bonaventure (Ventura) 35, Central Catholic 21
2009 (small schools): Modesto Christian 44, Parker (San Diego) 40
2010 (Division 3): Escalon 30, Madison (San Diego) 14
2011 (Division 4): Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 34, Le Grand 13
Central Catholic team leaves for state championship game.