The Tracy High football team joins the elite of the Sac-Joaquin Section on Saturday with a place in the SJS Division I championship game.
It’s a new level for the Tracy High team, but aside from being 14 weeks tougher and 14 weeks smarter, the Bulldogs will take the same team and the same strategies they had at the start of the season to Hornet Stadium at Sacramento State University.
Coach Matt Shrout expects no big shakeups to his lineup and no fancy plays added to the team’s offensive and defensive schemes.
“We are what we are. We got this far doing the things we’re doing. We’re just going to have to keep going,” Shrout said.
Tracy entered the playoffs as the No. 7 seed and beat No. 2 Jesuit and No. 3 Granite Bay to get to the championship game.
If the Tracy Bulldogs (10-3, 4-1 Tri-City Athletic League) do anything differently on Saturday, it will be to answer the abilities of the Folsom High team, also the Bulldogs.
Folsom (13-0, 6-0 Sierra Foothill League) is the defending SJS Division I champion, the No. 3 team in the state in Cal Hi Sports’ top 25 rankings, the No. 2 team in the Division I North state bowl rankings behind De La Salle of Concord, and the No. 1 seed in the SJS Division I bracket.
Folsom has averaged nearly 514 yards of offense per game this season, with University of Washington-bound senior quarterback Jake Browning leading the way.
Browning averages nearly 358 yards passing per game, and his 76 touchdown passes this year beat his own state record of 75, set during his junior year. He has been Folsom’s starting quarterback since his sophomore year, and his 214 touchdown passes since then are five short of the national high school career record (219).
“We’ve seen some passing teams, but not to this level,” Shrout said. “They run the ball really well, too.
“We’ve just got to make sure these guys know what’s coming at them and make sure we practice their routes and what they do and see how it goes.”
Folsom has scored at least six touchdowns in each game this year, beating most opponents by eight or more touchdowns. The closest game was a 56-21 win at Rocklin High, one of three teams to tie for second in the Sierra Foothill League, on Oct. 24. Rocklin is the only team so far to score more than two touchdowns against Folsom.
Tracy’s defensive backs, like their coaches, plan to do what they’ve always done, but with more intensity than ever.
“A lot of practice, a lot of work, and we have to watch a lot of film, too,” said Joshua Clarke, a senior wide receiver and cornerback, who made the game-ending interception against Granite Bay last week after memorizing the patterns his opponents would run.
“For the defensive backs, we do a lot of footwork drills so we can keep our men in front of us, and we do conditioning after practice, so that will help out a lot, too,” Clarke said. “I think all of the challenges that we’ve been through to get here have helped all of us get better.”
Safety Jacob Alvarado, who is third in interceptions in the Sac-Joaquin Section with nine picks this year, said his team was preparing for a Folsom team that will be talented all-around.
“If we execute and do what our coaches have taught us to do and tell us to do, then we can stop what they need to do,” he said, adding that Tracy had surprised its opponents before, including Jesuit and Granite Bay.
“I just feel like a lot of teams underestimated us and didn’t think we’d come out as hard as we usually do,” Alvarado said. “When we show up and play how we do, they realize what kind of game they’ve got coming.”
Tracy’s offense averages 308 yards per game. Senior quarterback Michael Brown averages nearly 105 yards passing, and senior fullback Nate Jones, with an average of 140 yards per game, accounts for most of Tracy’s 209 rushing yards per game.
Brown said he expected that the pressure to make decisions quickly would be greater than ever.
“We know they’re fast, and we know they’re big and physical and they’re going to come after us,” he said. “With this offense, we make the read, and whoever they take away, the other guy gets the ball.”
Jones added that opponents tend to underestimate the rest of Tracy’s offense. While he and Brown account for the most yards, Alvarado and seniors Brandon Russell and Jason Nelson and junior Courtney Hawkins are also playmakers in the backfield — as are receivers Clarke and senior Nick Tobeck.
“There are so many weapons that you can’t key in on one guy or you’re just going to have to pay the price, because of all of the other athletes on our team,” Jones said. “This is not a one-player offense. We know that we have to get everyone else involved and just play our game.”