Sitting in a film session, Big Valley Christian football coach Brian Berkefeld watched his last starting lineman leave the room in a panic for the locker room.
Minutes later, he re-appeared, pale-faced and weak.
In a season of unforeseen injury, the flu finally finished off the Lions' biggest and strongest unit. In that moment, Berkefeld had none of his starting linemen available for film or practice.
Two were out sick. Another was nursing a bone bruise. His center broke his wrist in a loss to Stone Ridge Christian, and the Lions' very best lineman, Finn Bamrud, blew out an ACL during a walk-through two weeks ago.
A rash of injuries conspired against Big Valley Christian (9-1), which had its hopes of a perfect season dashed with a 24-14 loss to Stone Ridge Christian in a game that decided the Central California Athletic Alliance title and a home playoff game. The fifth-seeded Lions travel to No. 4 Woodland Christian Thursday in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII playoffs.
"There might have been some accolades in going 10-0. It would have been the most wins in school history and we would have won the league title, but not coming out of that game healthy really hurts us," said Berkefeld, a first-year coach who has had an immediate impact on the small-school program at the corner of Tully Road and Pelandale Avenue. "We're just going to do what we do. We're going to prepare like we do every week. It's going to be the 'next man up,' like it's been all year."
The toll to the offensive line is only the tip of the iceberg.
Sophomore running back Javyn Drobnick will miss Thursday's game with a concussion. He left last week's loss to Stone Ridge Christian in an ambulance after a scary tackle late in the game. Berkefeld told The Merced Sun-Star that Drobnick was unconscious after the hit and had delayed reactions on the stretcher.
"He's definitely out this week," Berkefeld said. "If we win, there's a chance he's back next week. There's also chance he won't be back, too."
Drobnick has rushed for 1,608 yards and 20 touchdowns. He had 118 yards on 19 carries last week.
Sophomore Caleb Van Donselaar will step in for Drobnick, who is 20 yards shy of the school rushing record. A transfer from Ripon Christian, Van Donselaar has 277 yards and six touchdowns on 39 carries. Fullback Joshua Grabowski could also see more touches. Grabowski is second on the team in carries (44), yards (351) and touchdowns (eight).
"The good thing is we have a good back-up," Berkefeld said Van Donselaar. "He was a good back on (Ripon Christian's) JV team last year. With Javyn out, we lose some explosiveness, but we still have a strong, physical runner. He runs downhill. We don't lose a ton there. We're still going to run the football. We just lose a little burst."
Woodland Christian is 9-1 and champion of the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League. The Cardinals are favored by Calpreps.com, but sit behind Big Valley Christian in the MaxPreps rankings.
Even with the injuries, Berkefeld likes his team's chances.
The match-up is favorable. The Cardinals aren't nearly as fast or athletic as No. 6 Brookside Christian, or as big or physical as Stone Ridge Christian, No. 2 Ripon Christian (bye) or No. 1 Rio Vista (bye).
"They're well-coached, but one of the blessings of last week's loss is that we got matched up with Woodland Christian," Berkefeld said. "Brookside is loaded with so many athletes. Rio Vista and Ripon Christian are big and physical, and we just came out of a physical game.
"Woodland Christian is the team we feel we match up best with, especially with our injuries. They're talented, but we felt size-wise, we match up better with them. We were excited when we saw that was the team we got."