Practicing football on Thanksgiving Day may seem like a terrible inconvenience, but for high school football coaches it means one thing: success.
If you’re still playing by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, it means you’ve made it deep into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
“That’s the gauge. We missed last year, but we’ve practiced a lot of Thanksgivings,” said Central Catholic head coach Roger Canepa, whose team has practiced on the holiday eight of the 10 seasons he’s been with the Raiders. “It’s great, because the family comes down, we’ve got breakfast burritos, we do about an hour and half practice and then they head home.
“It’s great to be playing. We’ve worked hard to get to this point. I think we play well tomorrow and hopefully we come out on the right end.”
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The third-seeded Raiders (10-1) will take on No. 7 Del Oro (7-5) in the Division II semifinals. The Raiders are one of four Stanislaus District schools in action Friday night.
In Division III, No. 4 Patterson (11-1) travels to the Corral for a semifinal showdown against top-seeded Oakdale (11-1). No. 2 Manteca (10-2) entertains No. 3 Christian Brothers (10-2), a team the Buffaloes beat 36-35 in Sacramento on Sept. 1.
On Saturday, three more local teams vie for section championships.
At Stockton’s Lincoln High School, No. 2 Ripon Christian (7-4) takes on No. 1 Rio Vista (8-3) for the Division VII championship at 1 p.m.. That game will be followed by No. 5 Hilmar (7-5) taking on No. 4 Modesto Christian (7-5) in the D-VI title game at 6.
Del Oro is looking to make a run similar to the one it made it 2015. That season, the Golden Eagles snuck into the playoffs with a 4-6 record and parlayed their good fortune to a D-II state title. Del Oro repeated as section champs last year. A third consecutive D-II title would force the Golden Eagles, under the section’s continued success rule, to participate in the D-I playoffs next season. That’s the same rule that prompted Central Catholic to play in the D-III playoffs in 2015 and the D-II playoffs since last year.
Central Catholic has an enrollment of about 380 students, while Del Oro’s student populations sits around 1,750.
So what is Canepa thankful for this holiday?
“I’m thankful for my team, I’ll be honest with you,” said Canepa, whose team won four consecutive state titles from 2012-2015 before being bounced in the D-II quarters last season. “This team’s played hard. You know, you get teams sometimes that don’t play the way you want. I’m thankful we’ve played hard every week.”
The Raiders will need to play hard to get past Del Oro, traditionally one of the more physical programs in the section.
“They play their best football at the end of the year,” said Canepa, whose team is 63-14 in 33 playoff appearances with a record 19 section championship banners and making its 17th consecutive trip to the playoffs. “They beat the No. 2 seed (previously undefeated Inderkum) handily ... without their head coach.
“My team would probably play better without me, too.
Del Oro suspended head coach Jeff Walters for one game for his part in a post-game dust-up with an official following a 16-14 win over Lincoln in which the Golden Eagles were penalized 26 times for 305 yards. “When you're used to being there, you know how to prepare and you know how to act. The stage is never too big. They’re a very good football program and have been for years.”
Del Oro’s offense attacks out of the shotgun.
“Thankfully, it’s an offense we’ve seen (Rocklin and St. Mary’s), so it makes it a little easier. But they have a ton of formations. We just have to execute.”
And, of course, the game is being played at David Patton Field.
“We’ve been good at home,” said Canepa, who is 64-5 as the Raiders head coach on Carpenter Road. “You don't have to travel. You have a routine, compared to getting on a bus. It’s always better being at home. Any team that wants to travel is nuts. I love playing at home. You've got your locker room. You know the situations – where do you get tape, the pregame, where do you park. Things like that. We’re comfortable.”
Sac-Joaquin Section Football Playoffs
Division II semifinal
No. 7 Del Oro (7-5) at Central Catholic (10-1), 7 p.m.
Division III semifinals
No. 4 Patterson (11-1) at No. 1 Oakdale (11-1), 7 p.m.
No. 3 Christian Brothers (10-2) at No. 2 Manteca (10-2), 7 p.m.
(at Lincoln H.S., Stockton)
Division VII final
No. 2 Ripon Christian (7-4) at No. 1 Rio Vista (8-3), 1 p.m.
Division VI final
No. 5 Hilmar (7-5) at No. 4 Modesto Christian (7-5), 6 p.m.