The Sonora High School Wildcats rested Friday from their strict football schedule to prepare for their second-round playoff game on Nov. 9 at Dunlavy Field.
Coach Brian Craig said the mood of the team this week was “outstanding.” No one expected the team to even make it to the playoffs after losing four straight games at the beginning of the season, he said, but the team was feeling prepared to prove their naysayers wrong.
“We’re just happy to be the playoffs now. The way that we started, nobody thought we were going to be here. But the kids have worked really hard,” he said.
Sonora High School (6-4) was the fourth of 12 seeds in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs and earned a bye for a game on Nov. 2. They will compete next Friday against the winner of fifth seed Foothill High School, from Sacramento, and twelfth seed Pioneer High School, from Woodland.
In the past week, the team has evaluated the entire “season as a whole,” Craig said, in order to break down mistakes and “get better at the things we didn't do well this season.”
The team has primarily been directed to focus on their own focus, he said, and “making the kids understand what we are trying to accomplish out of every formation and play.”
The exact strategy of the team will be determined by the winner of the lower seed game on Friday night, he said.
“If we play well I think we can play with anybody. Once you're in the playoffs everyone is going to be really, really good so you can't take anyone for granted,” Craig said.
The results on Oct. 19 dictated Sonora High School’s playoff seeding with the bye week. A computer algorithm first determined Sonora High School’s ranking among the 12 teams set to advance, and a committee of former coaches and administrators then fixed any head to head or same-league matchups from earlier in the season to decide the final schedule.
As champion of the Mother Lode League, Sonora High School, and league champions from the Trans Valley League, the Pioneer Valley League and the Sierra Valley Conference earned an automatic berth to the Division V playoffs.
The Wildcats have won the Mother Lode League for five seasons in a row and have gone 29-0 in league play for the past five seasons.
Players to look out for in the game will be quarterback Jake Gookin, wide receiver and defensive end Evan Bearden, lineman Garrett Anderson and linebacker Tristan Hagstrom, Craig said.
“I could go on and on but those are the top guys right now,” he said.
All of the players are seniors.
The Wildcats are on a six-game win streak and beat Summerville High School 39-7 on Oct. 26 at Dunlavy Field.
Fifth seed Foothill High School in Sacramento is 7-3 overall this season, and came in third place in the Pioneer Valley League with a 3-2 league record. According to the California Department of Education, 2017-18 student enrollment at the school was 2,176.
Twelfth seed Pioneer High School in Woodland is 4-6 overall this season, and came in fourth place in the Golden Empire League with a 2-3 record. According to the California Department of Education, 2017-18 student enrollment at the school was 1,540.
Sonora High School enrollment is more than 900 students.
On Friday, Nov. 16, the winner of the Sonora game will play against the winner of Colfax High School versus either Los Banos High School or Orestimba High School.
The San-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs were updated in the 2018-19 school year to a 12-team bracket from an 18-team bracket, with the top four seeds earning a bye-week and home games on Nov. 9.
During the 2017-18 football season, Sonora High School beat Highlands High School 70-48 in the first round on Nov. 9. As the first seed in the 2017-18 season, Sonora High School played against the eighth and lowest seed.
In the second round Sonora High School fell to fifth seed Colfax High School 56-55 at Dunlavy Field. Colfax would go on to lose the championship to Bear River High School 30 to 27.
Craig said that in the playoffs the Wildcats lost in the semi finals the past two years, won the section title in 2015-16 only to lose the Northern California Championships, and lost the section title in 2014-15.